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
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
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
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
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
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.”