Chesterton Tribune



LED sign company pitches compromise in hopes to sway Chesterton BZA; built shed can stay

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Shawn Pettit proposed a compromise, but it remains to be seen whether the Chesterton Board of Zoning Appeals will accept it.

Meeting Thursday, the BZA postponed a decision until May 23 on Lamar Outdoor Advertising’s request for four variances needed to replace an existing billboard east of Indiana 49 with a slightly larger, 12-foot taller structure that would include LED digital technology.

Pettit is Lamar’s assistant real estate manager. Following questions and comments from BZA members, he offered to amend Lamar’s petition to permit only the south face seen by northbound Indiana 49 traffic to be LED digital; the north face seen by southbound traffic would be a static sign.

Each sign face would measure 12 feet by 25 feet. The LED sign face would change approximately every 10 seconds, but the depictions on it would not flash, animate or scroll.

Pettit represents two Smith Family trusts that own the land where the sign would be erected approximately 465 feet north of Porter Avenue. During a public hearing last night, no one commented either for or against the sign, and only one person attended the meeting.

BZA members said Lamar can prove no hardship why the sign variances should be granted, and town police chief David Cincoski has expressed reservations about having an illuminated, moving sign at the crest of a hill near the congested Indian Boundary Road area, especially in inclement weather.

BZA member Jim Kowalski commented it’s not for him to dictate to or question the police chief. He and member Sig Niepokoj said the larger LED sign could be a distraction, and Niepokoj questioned its value if vehicles are going 50 mph and the LED sign face will change every 10 seconds.

As for the matter of proving practical difficulty exists in the use of the property without the variances --- a finding required by state law, Pettit said, “I’ll be clearly honest with you --- I don’t have a hardship.”

BZA members bristled when he compared the current Lamar request to variances granted by the BZA for Lamar in 2008 allowing an LED billboard on the west side of Indiana 49 north of County Road 1100N on property owned by Robert Brown.

Pettit, who’s currently a member of the Merrillville Town Council, said he has a 20-year background in planning. He noted there’s something to be said for precedent and pointed to the Brown variances as well as those granted in 2011 for the Chesterton/Duneland Chamber of Commerce LED sign near the southwest corner of Indiana 49 and Porter Avenue. Pettit inquired what hardship the Chamber demonstrated for its petition.

BZA members said the Brown and Chamber signs are on flat land, not a hill. “What may work in one area doesn’t mean it will work in another area,” said Kowalski. Niepokoj said each case before the BZA is judged on its own merits.

As for the Brown sign, Kowalski said, “When it’s dark out, the illumination blows you away.” Pettit earlier compared the light intensity of Lamar’s new sign to other, brighter signs in town.

Acting Chesterton building commissioner Mike Orlich confirmed town ordinance does not set out limitations on brightness using foot-candle measurement.

Attorney Terry Hiestand, representing the Smith Family, said digital sign technology is hardly new and it is used by INDOT and other agencies; he pointed to studies showing LED signs are no more distracting than conventional signs. BZA member Tom Browne, who chaired the meeting in the absence of president Rodney Corder, said no one is against LED technology itself.

Hiestand emphasized no one was present Thursday to remonstrate against Lamar’s petition.

Pettit said last year when Lamar originally sought its variances but subsequently pulled that request, representatives of Connors Automotive to the south of the sign had some concerns. A new access road will be built to reach the sign resolving that issue, Pettit stated.

He also said Lamar would make available to the town a LED message to display local promotions, emergency notifications and Amber/Silver Alerts, and local companies would benefit by advertising on the new sign.

Browne said he wasn’t on the BZA for the Brown LED petition, but Lamar’s request before the board now is completely different. He said the BZA must determine whether granting the variances would be injurious to public safety, and whether allowing them would create a highway distraction.

BZA member Fred Owens said line of sight can be tricky and must be considered.

In 2011 when he voted in favor of the Chamber sign --- 7 feet by 14’ 11” of LED messaging centered in a larger monument-style structure --- Owens stated, “I don’t want people to think because we approve a sign for the Chamber, that doesn’t mean we are welcoming LED signs.”

Although Chesterton’s public comment period for Lamar is over, the public hearing was continued to the May meeting. Last year Lamar and a second company each asked to locate a new billboards along Interstate 94 in Burns Harbor. Both petitions were denied by the BZA there.

Shed allowed, no fine

After again pleading their case, Craig and Rebecca Rothman were granted a setback variance to legalize a 12-foot by 12-foot garden shed built at their 324 Jefferson Ave. home without a building permit. Vote was 4-0. No one commented during a public hearing.

The shed is within 5 feet of a side lot line and wholly contained in a 6-foot fenced back yard.

Craig Rothman offered to pay any fees or fine if the shed, which has no electric or gas service, could stay. “I realize this (variance) is after-the-fact but it’s my only recourse at this point.” He estimated he would lose several thousand dollars if ordered to tear it down.

Last month BZA members chastised Rothman for his oversight, but last night said he is facing up to his responsibility as a good citizen now. Browne said hopefully a message was being sent to the community not to build things without the proper permits. Niepokoj asked residents to contact the Building Department when in doubt.



Posted 4/26/2013