Chesterton Tribune

Animated billboard on Indiana 49 draws concerns from police, business, citizen

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The Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals discussed for well over one hour Lamar Advertising’s billboard request Thursday, but a final decision was continued until March 22.

During a public hearing last night, no one spoke in favor of replacing a static billboard on the east side of Indiana 49 north of Porter Avenue with a larger, taller LED billboard; resident Kim Goldak and Michael Connors representing Connors Automotive both remonstrated, and town police chief Dave Cincoski raised concerns by letter.

During the meeting Shawn Pettit of Lamar said if the four variances the company seeks are approved, he offered to take out permanently a second billboard 517 feet north of the one under petition, relocate the new $300,000 billboard farther away from the Connors dealership, and commit not to advertise other car dealers on the sign’s south face.

Those were three of several commitments Pettit offered to make, nine others previously negotiated with the BZA under a 2008 Lamar petition allowing an LED billboard on the west side of Indiana 49 between Porter Avenue and County Road 1100N.

Last year the BZA also approved the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce’s new $170,000 monument sign, now under construction on the west side of Indiana 49 just south of the Porter hospital ambulance station. That sign includes a 7-foot by 15-foot LED display centered in a stone monument structure.

With Connors having a scrolling digital message board as well, BZA members Sig Niepokoj and Thomas Browne questioned whether so much LED technology is the right image to welcome visitors to the town.

Pettit said it shows Chesterton is a progressive community that values modern technology. Niepokoj said it shows we don’t value scenic vistas, and Browne told Pettit the sign’s “how you make money, not whether Chesterton’s technologically advanced.”

Pettit emphasized that Lamar works with the town and did so previously by removing billboards when the company won approvals for tri-fold changeable signs on Indian Boundary Road and donated $17,000 for landscaping beautification there.

Terry Hiestand, attorney for the two Smith Family trusts that own the land where the new Indiana 49 LED billboard would be built, said Lamar voluntarily can agree to remove signs but the BZA can’t make that a condition of approval. Associate town attorney Julie Paulson concurred.

According to Goldak, the billboard would be “visual clutter that takes away from the beauty of our town.” Connors, whose dealership received 27 BZA variances in December to relocate and upgrade its own signs, also said the Lamar sign would be visual clutter and a distraction to motorists.

Chief Cincoski’s letter noted that in addition to traffic safety, his concern is the LED display itself. “The brighter the sign, the bigger the distraction for motorists,” whom he said tend to drift their vehicles in the direction of a distraction.

Said Pettit, “A gas station canopy puts out more foot candles (of light) than our LEDs.”

BZA chairman Rodney Corder quizzed Pettit about the distraction factor interrupting driver concentration. Corder said it takes 6 or 7 seconds for a person to acquire a sign’s message, and the LED sign would change six times in one minute.

Said Pettit, motioning with his cellphone in hand, “I’ll guarantee this is more distracting than our billboards.”

He and Hiestand several times referred to the 2008 LED billboard approved for Lamar and property owners Robert and Diane Brown. Said Niepokoj at one point, “(That) is a totally different animal. What happened years ago shouldn’t be discussed. Forget about the other one.”

Pettit said if Lamar is allowed to move the new 12-foot by 25-foot, double-sided billboard farther north away from Connors, it will have to be taller than the 45 feet originally proposed.

BZA member Fred Owens said moving the sign north sounds reasonable, but he’s not willing to approve something at an undetermined height. “You’re going to move it about this far and be about this high. That’s not fair to you or us.”

Pettit was urged to settle on a final sign location and height prior to the March 22 meeting, and to prepare a final draft of the proposed commitments patterned after those for the 2008 billboard that banned sexually explicit or moving/flashing images, and set a minimum of 10 seconds between message changes.

Hiestand emphasized Chesterton’s opportunity to have Lamar remove a static billboard on Indiana 49, as well as the need to attract and retain business in a time of economic uncertainty through advertisements on the new sign.

At one point Pettit told BZA members, “If this doesn’t succeed, these signs will remain. It’s not a threat; it’s a fact of business.”




Posted 2/24/2012