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TMCNet:  Bright blight? [Virginian - Pilot]

[December 12, 2013]

Bright blight? [Virginian - Pilot]

(Virginian - Pilot Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) By Jeff Sheler The Virginian-Pilot CHESAPEAKE Church signs with scrolling messages and animated electronic images have no place in residential neighborhoods, city planners recommended Wednesday.

In a unanimous vote with no discussion, the Planning Commission asked that the City Council reject a proposal to allow places of worship to erect light-emitting diode - or LED - signs in residential districts. The proposal also would allow internally lighted church signs and would double the permitted size to 64 square feet.

Under current law, churches that want such signs must obtain zoning variances, and a few have been granted. The proposed ordinance would grant blanket approval with certain restrictions.

The proposal was initiated in September, when the City Council asked city planners to make a recommendation. That request came after the council granted a rezoning application to a church on Cedar Road in Great Bridge to incorporate an LED message board into a sign in front of the building.

The planning staff drafted the proposal but recommended its rejection, saying it would erode the "visual integrity" of residential areas and lead to a proliferation of lighted signs.

In a report to the Planning Commission, staff members noted 166 houses of worship located in Chesapeake's residential neighborhoods.

"The sheer number of potential signs that could be erected would erode the residential character of the city's neighborhoods," the report said.

Churches that want the signs still could seek their approval by applying for zoning changes or conditional use permits, the report noted. Each would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis Despite the commission's action, the City Coucil will have the final say on the signs. If adopted, the proposal would make Chesapeake the only South Hampton Roads city to permit LED signs in residential areas.

Virginia Beach implemented a ban in 2010 after a proliferation of LED signs came under criticism. Under its new ordinance, about 100 existing signs were permitted to stay in place.

Norfolk prohibits LED signs except for "public service message boards" installed by the city, educational institutions or other governmental entities, according to city spokeswoman Lori Crouch.

Portsmouth and Suffolk allow internally lit signs, but not LEDs, in residential areas except in Portsmouth's historic districts.

Hampton and Newport News allow LED signs, but message changes in Newport News can be no less than three seconds apart.

Jeff Sheler, 757-222-5207, about the proposal In September the Chesapeake council asked city planners to make a recommendation on LED signage. The council had granted a rezoning application to a Great Bridge church that incorporated an LED message board.

(c) 2013 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

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