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The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners received a report on the status of updating the county’s sign regulations during its meeting Tuesday.

During the meeting, Pat Haddon, county principal planner with the Department of Community Planning and Building, presented the commissioners with an update on the status of the sign regulation process and a review of digital signs.

The sign regulation update process began in February 2012 with a public sign forum. Since then, the ad hoc Sign Regulation Update Committee has been reviewing and discussing several items, including differences between town center sign regulations and how proposed regulations could be standardized or brought more closely into agreement, signs on vehicles, temporary signs and issues with regulating them and digital signs.

Digital signs, Haddon explained, are electronic displays that show television programming, menus, information, advertising and other messages. She said the county has not permitted digital signs “due to restrictions on sign materials and lighting.”

However, county residents may have noticed digital signs in Chesapeake Beach, Haddon said. Chesapeake Beach, a municipality with its own planning authority, does allow digital signs. She said residents can see about four in that area, including at Traders Restaurant, Rod ‘N’ Reel Restaurant, American Legion Post 206 and the North Beach Volunteer Fire Department.

Haddon pointed out that there are several issues with digital signs, such as traffic safety and prohibition versus regulation.

“There’s no clear-cut anything on that at all,” Haddon said of research about traffic safety in reference to digital signs. She said there is research supporting that the signs impede traffic safety and research suggesting they do not.

When it comes to prohibiting or regulating digital signs, Haddon said case law shows that total bans are usually upheld in court, whereas a partial ban is not.

“Case law has said it’s basically all or none,” Haddon clarified.

The types of things that can be regulated on digital signs are brightness, movement — such as flashing, strobing or racing — the setbacks, the interval at which signs can be placed and the zones where the signs can be permitted, she explained. Other regulations on digital signs can include the size and height of the sign, as well as the duration of images in seconds, hours, days or driving times.

What cannot be regulated, she explained, is content of the sign, which includes colors and font style and size. In addition, she said there cannot be a set number of signs in a specific jurisdiction.

“You might think it’s ugly, but” aesthetics can’t be regulated either, Haddon said.

The commissioners shared concern over how digital signs may work in shopping centers.

Commissioners Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) and Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark suggested a time-shared digital sign for the entire shopping center may be a probable solution to having too many digital signs in one shopping center.

“We couldn’t allow a digital sign for every business in a shopping center,” Clark explained.

“You’re going to have to address shopping centers and how you’d do this,” Clark told Haddon, “whether it’s front footage on Route 4 or how many can be allowed there or if each shopping center is allowed to have one digital sign and then the shopping center management would be responsible” for distributing time among the businesses or who would be able to participate on the digital sign.

The commissioners also seemed to agree permitting digital signs in the seven town centers would be better than allowing them “plastered up and down the entire road,” Slaughenhoupt said.

“I’m a’ tell you right up front, if I have to vote on whether to allow digital signs, if it’s a matter of allowing digital signs anywhere up and down Route 4, then I’m going to vote against it,” Clark said. “If we can make it work in the town centers, that’s a different story.”

Haddon said the process is going to take almost a year, but it gives the public and businesses more opportunities to add to the discussion.

The next step, she explained, is to have a first draft of the regulations by March 25 followed by the seven town center regulations spread through April and May. In June and July, the drafted regulations are proposed to be reviewed by interested county departments and the ad hoc committee. A work session with the Calvert County Planning Commission and BOCC isn’t expected until late August or early September, according to Haddon’s timeline. A second draft is scheduled to be complete in September with a public meeting for full public review in October, at which point the regulations will be reviewed a second time by the planning commission and county commissioners.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Unanimously approved to continue the public hearing regarding proposed amendments to the personnel chapter of the county code until March 12;

• Unanimously approved to reappoint Michael Phipps to the Calvert County Planning Commission; and

• Unanimously approved staff to submit an application for a $30,000 grant from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority to enhance public access and interpretation amenities at the George E. Rice House. The award of a grant agreement is contingent upon a $30,000 county match.

Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) was not present Tuesday.

aharrison@somdnews.com