Billboards are a common sight for those traveling to and from the Delaware beaches, but they have sometimes caused controversy when it comes to where they should – or should not – go. This week, the Sussex County Board of Adjustments took up one such case, with a request from Christopher C. Brasure to erect a two-tiered billboard in Roxana.
The Brasure family owns the 2.45-acre commercially-zoned property on the southwest side of Route 20 and north of the Roxana Volunteer Fire Company fire hall, and they plan to eventually move their Brasure’s Pest Control business to the location, according to attorney Jim Fuqua, who represented them before the BoA on April 18.
In the meantime, and given the slowly recovering economy, Fuqua said, they want to place a double billboard on the site, in order to generate some economic return on the property. The billboard, he said, would be built in such a way so as not to interfere with those long-term plans to relocate their business to the parcel.
The Brasures are asking for the county to grant them a special-use exception for a billboard to be erected within 300 feet of residential property, along with a variance from setback requirements, one from the maximum square footage of 600 square feet and a 4-foot variance from the 25-foot height limit for a billboard.
Fuqua noted that the property is located across from a boat and trailer storage business, and along major road. He said they expected to have no adverse impact on the neighborhood, and with the amount of traffic taking Route 20 to the beaches, he said, the site was appropriate for a billboard.
A similar billboard was approved nearby last year, Fuqua pointed out, and was determined in its approval to have no negative impact on the owners or property values of neighboring residential properties.
“This is a way of creating two billboards at one location versus one at two locations,” he suggested.
County staff noted that, once the Brasures’ business is located on the property, they will not be able to use the billboard as on-site advertising for that business. Fuqua said the family had already been contacted by would-be outside advertisers about the billboard.
The Brasure property is within 300 feet of four homes, he noted, pointing out that one of the properties is where the Brasures’ daughter resides.
“The Brasures will be the ones most impacted,” he said, “and they will locate and use the billboard in a way that won’t be a nuisance to anyone.”
To back up that claim, he offered declarations from the other three immediate neighbors that stated they had no objections to the sign.
However, some of those same neighbors begged to differ on Monday, offering up a petition of opposition signed by 26 community members and saying they had been misled into signing statements that they didn’t oppose a billboard there.
Neighbor Dale Yost told the board he had signed a statement of support after being told the proposal was for “a ‘sign,’ ‘just like the church.’ He didn’t say it was going to be a double billboard.”
Another neighbor told a similar tale, stating that he felt a billboard on the site would be a traffic hazard.
Carol Buchler was among another eight people present on April 18 who said they opposed the Brasures’ plan.
“I don’t feel I can address this without referring to the one that was approved last year in Roxana,” she said. “It’s very large, and it looks like it has been set down in the middle of someone’s yard. It’s lighted up like a beacon.”
Buchler said the applicant for that billboard had told the BoA it would not alter the essential character of the neighborhood. No one had turned out in opposition, she said, because they had assumed that “never in a million years would anyone put a double billboard in Roxana. They represented it was in a commercial area, but it is not,” she added of the prior applicants.
“We feel the existing billboard is the first step on a very slippery slope,” she said, “and if you approve this one tonight, that will be a second step.”
Buchler further noted that only one of the two billboards on the previously approved sign is even rented at present, calling into question the demand for another one.
“The other businesses in the area have small, unobjectionable signs. None of those even compare to that billboard,” she said.
Buchler also noted the presence of the Moose Lodge nearby, stating that it was “established as a commercial use for decades. No one has any objection” to it, she said. “But that billboard absolutely dwarfs the Moose Lodge.”
“It was approved last year because we were all asleep on the job. It did alter the character of our neighborhood,” she asserted.
“We know some of the neighboring land is commercial, but most is open or has small signage for businesses that operate on that property,” Buchler added. Nor, she said, would they oppose the Brasure’s business being located on the property – just the proposed billboard.
“What if they don’t move to that property?” she asked. “My guess is Brasure’s Pest Control will be front and center on the top of that billboard. An empty billboard is an eyesore,” she added. “I was told the owner of that [other] billboard was asked about renting it, but the price was too high.”
Opposing the billboard was not something, Buchler said, that had come easy for the neighbors.
“We know the Brasures. It’s very hard to go against a member of the community. It’s not personal, but it is personal to us. These are our homes.”
She said some of the people she had talked to about the billboard had said they were opposed but didn’t want to go up against the Brasures because of their involvement in the community.
“The approach to Ocean City and Fenwick Island shouldn’t look like the approach to Chincoteague,” Buchler concluded. “Leave this one mile alone.”
Board members opted to consider the issue beyond Monday’s meeting, voting unanimously to table any decision until their next regular meeting, set for May 2.