• BZA member Makela sounds horn over bright sign
• AVFR’s violation of code ‘very disappointing,’ says Curry
• Jackson Supervisor Frazier unconcerned
Rappahannock County Administrator Garrey Curry was just as surprised as some others in the county by the bright new Amissville Volunteer Fire and Rescue electronic sign erected recently on the department’s lawn.
“Much to our surprise, a new electronic sign was recently installed at the AVFR station without a single permit. No SUP, no zoning permit, no building permit (for electrical),” Curry wrote in an email to the county’s Board of Supervisors.
Board of Zoning Appeals member Ron Makela confirmed to the Rappahannock News that it was he who left a message with Rappahannock Zoning Administrator Michelle Somers inquiring about the sign. Makela is a resident of Amissville.
“I called Michelle and asked if there was a permit for the sign,” said Makela, who never heard back from Somers.
But in his email alerting the BOS to the existence of the sign, Curry noted that Somers had received a “complaint” — or more accurately an inquiry from one county official to another.
Curry also explained to the supervisors the process the county government had taken over a two-year period to assist the AVFD in replacing its outdated sign. Here’s that email in its entirety:
“Board members —
“Michelle and I worked hard to find a path for AVFR to install an electronic sign on their property that would not require a zoning ordinance amendment that would open up the county to more electronic signs. The process that was explained to the current president of AVFR (and past president of AVFR in October 2018) was that the electronic sign could not have a message that changed any more frequently than once per hour (avoiding the definition of "animated sign") and could avoid the prohibition over internally lit signs with an SUP pursuant to RCC Section 170-107.1B(2).
“Michelle subsequently received contact from a sign company wanting to know what permits were required for the installation of an electronic sign and she let them know it required a SUP this past September.
“To this end the ordinance requirements for the sign were well known to AVFR and their contractor.
“Much to our surprise, a new electronic sign was recently installed at the AVFR station without a single permit. No SUP, no zoning permit, no building permit (for electrical). I saw the sign yesterday when I was headed to the refuse center with Page County representatives and today I've learned that Michelle received a complaint.
“It's one thing when a citizen takes action not knowing the code, but entirely different when they take action fully understanding the code having been informed about it. Michelle is in the unenviable position of having to issue a notice of violation to AVFR.
“This was totally avoidable and is very disappointing.
“I wanted you to know about this as it will likely become a very public issue.
Reached this week, Jackson district Supervisor Ron Frazier told this newspaper: “The [county] staff wouldn’t give them a permit… I don’t think it was improper for them to have a replacement sign.”
So should everyone who is frustrated by the county government’s process do what they want without a permit?
“It’s not the same thing,” insisted Frazier, who as a BOS member has been outspoken about upholding and enforcing the county’s zoning ordinances.
“They [already] had an internally [fluorescent] lit sign,” he added.
However, the issue raised in December 2017 was not about replacing existing signs with like signs, as Frazier suggested. It was about replacing them with bright, programmable signs — called “animated” signs in the zoning ordinance.
Curry states in his email that “the electronic sign could not have a message that changed any more frequently than once per hour (avoiding the definition of ‘animated sign’).”
He also states that according to Rappahannock code, the sign requires a special use permit.
In a Tuesday email, Board of Zoning Appeals Secretary David Konick, a lawyer representing Amissville Fire and Rescue, railed against the out of date sign ordinance.
“I think it is pretty obvious the 33-year old sign ordinance is completely out of date and, for that matter, out of touch with reality,” wrote Konick. “My client asked the county for guidance, and for amendments to clarify the ordinance over two years ago. The supervisors directed the Planning Commission to do something about it in a December 2017 resolution, but thanks to the enlightened leadership of Gary F. Light — nothing has been done.
“In light of that, it seems grossly unfair to threaten enforcement action against the Amissville Volunteers who risk life and limb for people day and night, when it is blatantly obvious to everyone that the county hasn’t been enforcing it against anyone else.”