Chesterton Tribune

Burns Harbor planners to tackle LED sign restrictions with new ordinance

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After a lengthy discussion with opposing opinions, the Burns Harbor Advisory Plan Commission agreed to discuss restrictions for LED signage at its Aug. 6 meeting.

If enough of a consensus can be reached, a proposed ordinance might be ready for public hearing in September before advancing to the Town Council for final action.

The town zoning ordinance addresses the location, height and size of signs and allows billboards in certain zones but doesn’t specifically address LED technology other than banning flashing signs, said building commissioner Bill Arney.

There are two pending requests for signs in town that likely will be heard by the Board of Zoning Appeals later this month. Commission president Jeff Freeze said the BZA can put conditions on any approval and require commitments from the petitioners.

Commission and BZA member Terry Swanson said that’s putting alot of responsibility on the BZA to come up with all the protections the town needs in the absence of an ordinance that spells it out.

Freeze said without an ordinance, future BZAs might not know what the community is willing to accept. He said the sign industry is moving to LED technology and favored having certain specifications such signs should meet.

Former BZA member Gene Weibl, who now sits on the commission and Town Council, said even if an ordinance is in place, the BZA still can grant variances, but if you have nothing it’s wide open.

Shem Khalil of town engineer Global Engineering & Land Surveying used the new Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce LED sign on Indiana 49 --- built into a landscaped, stone monument base --- as an example of a pleasing way to integrate LED signage in town.

Commission and Town Council member Jim McGee asked why Burns Harbor would want to allow LED signs. “What I’ve seen going to Merrillville and Michigan City, I don’t like that at all.”

But commission member Marcus Rogala said the discussion is a waste of time.

“Times are changing. Are you going to tell a person they can’t put up Christmas lights? They’re LED.” He asked where’s the harm to have an LED sign at the already-bright I-94 Auto Mall on U.S. 20 in town, and Rogala noted Burns Harbor’s fueling/convenience stations have LED signs displaying the price of gasoline now.

It was agreed Khalil will send commission members proposed LED specifications to consider for the August discussion, and the BZA also will be provided the information for its July 26 meeting. Associate town attorney Julie Paulson said the BZA can attach any conditions to approval it wishes.

Parkwood seeks two lots

Also Monday, developer Dick Davis sought concept review for a proposed replat of Outlots A and B in his Parkwood Estates subdivision west of Lakeland Park. He wants the outlots to become sellable residential lots 41 and 42. A temporary 50-foot-radius turnaround for emergency services is in place without curbs and gutters at the west end of Lake Park Avenue at the outlots.

The turnaround maintains a point to provide connectivity in the event the large vacant tract of land to the west is ever developed. A permanent cul-de-sac would require a 60-foot radius.

Freeze said it appears the commission would be open to hearing a replat petition unless something drastically changes from the plans discussed Monday.

Developer challenges fees

The Plan Commission, with member Jan Hines absent, opted to take no action regarding a letter from James D. Combs of L. I. Combs & Sons Inc. alleging the firm has been overcharged thousands of dollars for permit and inspection fees related to its ongoing construction of the Traditions apartment complex at The Village subdivision.

Paulson said Combs’ administrative remedy through the town is filing an appeal with the BZA. Instead, he sent the letter to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance seeking an investigation. The DLGF approves budgets; it’s the State Board of Accounts that performs audits.

Burns Harbor clerk-treasurer Jane Jordan said the SBA will check town records and the allegation won’t be ignored.

After Monday’s meeting, Jordan was told by Paulson that her firm will prepare a legal opinion to have on file for the SBA regarding the fees. Arney said the town requires that certain fees be based on the number of units in a building, not merely one permit or inspection fee for the entire multi-unit building.

Combs’ letter indicated this phase of Traditions has 75 apartments in 10 buildings of either seven or eight units in addition to five separate garage buildings, and that he paid the fees rather than delay construction for the owner.


Posted 7/3/2012