Chesterton Tribune



BZA pulls the plug on larger taller Indiana 49 LED billboard for Lamar

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Lamar Outdoor Advertising’s five-month quest seeking variances needed to replace an existing billboard with a larger, 12-foot taller structure was rejected Thursday by Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals members Rodney Corder, Jim Kowalski and Fred Owens.

All three votes were needed because members Sig Niepokoj and Tom Browne were absent. The land where the existing sign is located is owned by two Smith Family trusts.

The sign stands east of Indiana 49 and north of East Porter Avenue, and would have utilized LED technology (but not flashing or animation) only on the south face visible to northbound Indiana 49 traffic in a compromise offered by Lamar.

The BZA determined allowing an LED sign on the crest of an overpass would be distracting to drivers potentially causing them to drift into another lane, and that because of the many other uses allowed in the parcel’s Business-2 zoning district the Smith Family can show no hardship if the larger sign is denied.

Lamar representative Shawn Pettit stated at the April 25 BZA meeting he in fact could show no actual hardship; Thursday he said the BZA was not being equitable because it previously approved three LED signs --- one for Lamar --- along Indiana 49 south of Lamar’s current request and no hardship was established for those petitions either.

When Pettit asked BZA attorney Julie Paulson to comment on hardship, she replied, “I’m not issuing a legal opinion on that tonight.”

Corder said a new LED sign would be the fourth along Indiana 49 between County Road 1100N and Indian Boundary Road so the entirety of the environment has to be considered.

Corder also noted it’s not Lamar’s interests or benefit the BZA is concerned with but that of the underlying property owner, the legal petitioner, on whose land the sign is located.

Attorney Terry Hiestand, representing the Smith Trusts, said the property owners need a stable cash flow from the billboard to pay the parcel’s property taxes, and that LED is now the accepted advertising standard the way automobiles replaced horses. Corder said the property taxes amount to less than $600 a year.

Prior to the meeting Hiestand distributed an addendum to zoning petition responding to a previous letter from Chesterton police chief Dave Cincoski that raised questions about the billboard.

Hiestand quoted Cincoski as not having concerns about the presence of the sign or the request to change the height of the billboard but rather its illumination level and potential brightness becoming a distraction to southbound Indiana 49 travelers. Lamar subsequently offered to remove the use of LED on the north sign face closest to Indian Boundary.

Since the May 23 meeting Pettit submitted new studies from Robinson Engineering regarding the illumination and a LED sign’s likely traffic impact. The Robinson study compared a digital sign display near the crest of a hill on Indianapolis Boulevard in Highland citing no increase in accidents.

Said Kowalski, “The Robinson study is just a study; it’s not a guarantee.” He added that even if accidents can’t be blamed on LED signs in Chesterton, the current Indiana 49 LED sign near the northwest quadrant of the highway and CR1100N is bright at 5:30 a.m. “Believe me, it wakes you up.”

Because new information had been submitted, the BZA reopened public comments on Lamar’s request; no comments were received at a public hearing two months ago.

Former BZA member Kim Goldak questioned hardship and said Indiana 49 is known as the “deadly bypass” because semi-trucks run red lights. “I cannot think of a single reason why this should be granted.”

Paul Petro predicted more accidents probably would occur if an LED sign face is allowed based on recent Indiana 49 accidents he recounted in that area alone. “Chesterton used to be known as the city of trees. If we keep this progression up we’ll be known as the city of signs.”

Thomas Biedron asked whether studies have evaluated the impact on drivers when LED sign faces change.

Pettit said he believes Lamar, which operates 82 billboards in Chicago and Northwest Indiana, has been a good neighbor in Chesterton.

He reminded that if upgrading the petition’s Indiana 49 location is turned down, the legal but non-conforming existing billboard there will remain and there is no prohibition against Lamar manually changing the static advertising copy every hour, which he said would be far more distracting than an LED sign changing faces every 10 seconds.





Posted 6/28/2013