Chesterton Tribune

 

 

BZA votes 3-2 to grant Horizon Bank sign petition over neighbors’ objections

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals split-voted at its meeting Thursday night to approve Horizon Bank’s petition for a raft of variances which will enable the bank to replace an existing monument sign with a taller, larger combination static/dynamic freestanding sign.

Voting in favor of the petition--and over the objections of four remonstrators--were Richard Riley, Jim Kowalski, and Joel Carney.

Voting against the petition were Joe Ackerman and Fred Owens.

The variances in question: one to increase the height of the sign to 20’ 6’’, 2’ 6’’ taller than the maximum height permitted by the Zoning Ordinance; a second to increase the gross surface area to 180 square feet, 100 square feet more than the maximum of 80 square feet; a third to place the sign within four feet of the east lot line, six feet closer than the minimum setback of 10 feet; and a fourth to allow the erection of the freestanding sign in the first place, since under the Zoning Ordinance as recently amended a business in a B-2 zone--as the Horizon Bank branch is--is entitled only to a wall-mounted sign, not to a freestanding sign nor to a monument sign.

Attorney Greg Babcock, representing Horizon Bank, told the board that the static top portion of the sign will bear the Horizon Bank legend, while the dynamic bottom portion will promote only the financial products of the bank or community events. The dynamic sign will also comply with the Zoning Ordinance in terms of maximum lumens and will change every eight seconds as required and no sooner.

The signage is needed, Babcock said, to advertise the full range of products and services available at the branch, since--it turns out--many potential customers mistakenly believe that only checking and regular banking activities are conducted there.

The sign needs to be fully 20 feet in height, moreover, Babcock added, because Ind. 49 is well above the grade of the bank, located at the northeast corner of Ind. 49 and Roosevelt Street, and because vegetation in INDOT’s right-of-way would otherwise obscure it.

Remonstration

At a public hearing which preceded the vote, no one spoke in favor of the petition. Four persons, however, spoke in opposition to it.

Chesterton Town Council Member Jim Ton, R-1st--formerly a resident of Morgan Park--noted that when the Ind. 49 Bypass was originally constructed, the zoning of a small sliver of land on which the Horizon Bank branch is now located was up for grabs. Morgan Park residents urged the Town Board to zone it R-1. Instead, it was zoned B-2, Ton said.

“Morgan Park property owners and residents have several concerns about any changes that would alter their quality of life,” Ton said. “Did the bank not know of the restrictions that existed when they chose the site? Surely they did. When choosing a bank, don’t items like liquidity, loan policy, and customer service say more than signs that light up the whole area with messages 24/7? I think so.”

Also remonstrating was Kim Goldak, formerly a member of the BZA. “Horizon Bank has a monument sign that is perfectly visible from Ind. 49, approximately 10 feet in height,” she said. “Although I could understand wanting a taller sign, what I don’t understand is why 18 feet isn’t enough. Please remember that a freestanding sign isn’t even permitted in your location.”

“Friends, at some point we need to start restricting these exaggerated demands,” Goldak added. “Let’s keep Chesterton simple and uncluttered. Ind. 49 is the Gateway to the Dunes, remember?”

Constance Johnson, for her part, objected to the dynamic portion of the sign. “We do not need a lighted sign, the result of which will be a nuisance for nearby property owners and a source of light pollution.”

Finally, Charlotte Kroft expressed her fear that the dynamic portion of the sign will prove a distraction for motorists southbound on Ind. 49. The intersection of East Porter Ave. and Ind. 49 is already hazardous enough, she said, without erecting a brightly lit sign whose message changes every eight seconds. “I’m very concerned that a sign that attracts more attention from motorists will distract them to miss the change from yellow to red,” she said. “It would be nothing but a detriment to the safety of that intersection.”

Discussion

Members Joe Ackerman and Fred Owens both questioned the need for a freestanding sign. Ackerman noted that the Horizon Bank branch has been operating successfully on that piece of property for nearly 20 years, and that “under the current ordinance they already have more than they’re allowed.”

Owens said that he has “no problem seeing the existing monument sign at 10 feet,” and that the Horizon Bank branch has a built-in competitive advantage--compared to other local bank branches--in the thousands of motorists who pass it every day on Ind. 49. “Traffic is not a disadvantage. It’s a benefit. Horizon has that going for it already. There’s plenty of options Horizon Bank has that do not involved a large freestanding sign.”

Member Jim Kowalski, however, chalked up the resistance from Morgan Park residents to something else. “I think people are afraid of change,” he said, then added that, should Horizon Bank ever sell the property, “with that B-2 zone you could have something a lot more unrealistic.”

Members Richard Riley and Joel Carney stated frankly that they have no problem with the freestanding sign itself. Rather, they wondered whether in fact there really is a “practical difficulty” associated with this particular piece of property which would necessitate the sign. In the end, they concluded that there is, in the grade differentiation and the angled outline of the lot.

The board then split-voted 3-2 to grant the Horizon Bank branch’s petition.

 

 

Posted 1/24/2020

 
 
 
 

 

 

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