At a recent meeting, Milford City Council agreed to adjust deed restrictions related to signage for lots purchased in Independence Commons. The change was based on a request from the Food Bank of Delaware who are building a new facility in the business park.
“Recently, we have been working on our Comprehensive Signage Plan application and it has bene determined that we will need additional assistance from the city in carrying out our intended plan,” a letter provided to council from the Food Bank of Delaware said. “The deed restrictions for the Independence Commons Business Park lay out specific requirements for signage. Based on our intended usage of the facility and to ensure that it is welcoming to the myriad of visitors that will utilize it, our signage needs are greater than what is currently allowed in the deed restrictions.”
City Planner Rob Pierce explained that this issue could be rectified by adding a section to the restrictions from the deed and using the city’s regular sign ordinance in the business park. He felt that the deed restrictions, which were implemented prior to the city’s current sign ordinance, were geared toward smaller office-type buildings.
“These, in my opinion, were geared primarily to smaller office type uses that didn’t really have the need for a lot of campus signage,” Pierce said. “Like where delivery trucks need to go, where the pedestrians needed to go, where are the different functions within a larger scale project. What staff is recommending is adding a paragraph H, which would state signage may differ from the sign requirements if approved by City Council as part of a comprehensive sign plan conditional use application as outlined in chapter 230 zoning.”
Councilman Todd Culotta asked why a resolution needed to be adopted rather than just look at each request individually.
“Under Article Nine, I believe in the restrictions, titled Amendments, it says these covenants may from time to time be amended by resolution. Such amendment supplement or change may not become effective except by majority vote of city council,” Pierce said. “So, when we outlined this many years ago, and we have amended it in the past, I think it’s been amended twice in the last eight years, we are basically just following that article, as to how we have to go about amending on this.”
Councilman Mike Boyle was concerned that adopting this change would impact the sign ordinance in the city code. Pierce explained that this would require the signage in Independence Commons to follow the current zoning code.
“Right now, it’s subject to the sign ordinance and the seven deed restrictions,” Pierce said. “So, there’s additional items in here related to sign material types, which architectural features. These are things that we don’t get in our sign code and the zoning ordinance. There’re also limitations that differ in terms of how large a sign can be than what’s in our code. So, these deed restrictions are more restrictive than our current zoning ordinance. So, by adding this paragraph in it would give an applicant an opportunity to seek deviations from these deed restrictions, but it still would have to comply with our sign code.”
Councilwoman Katrina Wilson confirmed this would only impact Independence Commons, stating that council had spent a significant amount of time creating the current sign code and she would not want to contradict anything in it.
“I don’t want to have our citizens come in after the fact and say they asked for something they didn’t get versus something we are allowing ourselves to do,” Councilwoman Wilson said.
City Solicitor David Rutt explained that this change would not have an impact on the sign ordinance, but only change the restrictions in the deed that the city put in place.
“The city, at the time, only allowed the one freestanding sign, two square feet,” Rutt said. “But what this does now is as a conditional use, if it’s approved by city council, that could allow the sign ordinance to be the standard as opposed to the deed.”
Pierce stated that the signage requests would be subject to public hearing.
“So, again, this just adds some flexibility and with the deed restrictions it’s not up to the department staff to determine whether it meets the deed restrictions,” Pierce said. “They’re gonna come before the Planning Commission and city council, with a public hearing that’ll be advertised and notified in the newspaper, send out letters to the adjacent property owners. And in this particular case, we’ve notified everybody within Independence Commons of the request. But it would still have to go through a public hearing process and if there’s any objections to what is being proposed, that could be discussed. And at that time,”
Councilman Jason James pointed out that the dynamic of Independence Commons has changed so it made sense that the deed restrictions and sign requirements may change as well.
“Thank you for the consideration of this resolution. While it does affect everyone in the Independence Commons business park, it would allow a pathway for us to bring an application forward to address the signage that we would need for our upcoming parcels,” Chad Robinson, Vice President of External Affairs at the Food Bank, said. “So, we encourage your support of this resolution tonight, and I look forward to seeing you again in the next few weeks.”
Rutt asked if these were just directional signs on the 11-acre parcel owned by the Food Bank and Robinson stated that the resolution would actually pertain to anyone in the business park.
“As it relates to the Food Bank project, it would be directional signs in our project, but that isn’t really what you are voting on,” Robinson said. “
Pierce stated that the sign package created by the Food Bank would be reviewed at a later date, but that what was before council was a resolution to allow the deed restrictions to be overridden with a conditional use request. Rutt stated that this would allow other owners within the business park to also request conditional use related to signage. Mark Whitfield, City Manager, commented that there was no sign ordinance when the deed restrictions for Independence Commons were created.
“We had a sign ordinance in place, but it wasn’t as robust as it is now. The Planning Commission spent a lot of time and there may be some members of council that maybe sat through those workshops,” Pierce said. “But it’s a lot more detailed now than it was at the time and, again, the comprehensive sign plan would still allow council to place conditions on the sign package if, say the zoning code doesn’t get into aesthetics in terms of you know, the architectural materials used to build the site. This could all be reviewed as part of that sign package which we’ve done for some of the subdivisions and apartment complexes.”
Councilman James apologized to the mayor, council and public. Because he owned a parcel within the business complex, he recused himself from the discussion and the vote. Rutt explained that the deed restrictions were created in 1998, so they were 25 years old.
After the discussion, public comment was accepted regarding the ordinance. There was no public comment for or against the measure and it passed with a vote of 7 to 0 with Councilman James abstaining.
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