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
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
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
Hiestand emphasized no one was present Thursday to remonstrate against
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
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.