Council Usurps BZA, Courts

Sign Ordinance Bypassed

BLYTHEWOOD – Town Council unanimously voted to approve and pay $500 for a new sign for the Chamber of Commerce, Arts Center and Visitor Center that had previously been denied by Interim Town Administrator Jim Meggs last June and again by the Town’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) in July.

The appeal was brought by Sandy Kahn, owner of the State Farm Insurance office located in front of the IGA on Blythewood Road. The Chamber, Arts Center and Visitor Center are tenants in a building located on Kahn’s State Farm office property. Kahn had asked for a new, separate sign for her three tenants even though there were already three other signs for the three tenants and three separate State Farm signs posted on the property. The tenants have said they need the additional sign to bring traffic to their location since it is difficult to find.

When initially denying the request, Meggs explained that “Only one sign is permitted.” That sign could advertise for both the tenants and the State Farm office, but Khan wanted two new, separate signs – one for her tenants and one for her State Farm business. In her appeal to the BZA, Khan said she felt the Chamber and Visitor’s Center should be classified as civic organizations and, thus, be exempt from the requirements of the sign ordinance that other businesses in the town are required to adhere to. She did not give a reason why the Arts Center, which houses a number of individual for-profit businesses, should be exempt.

In a memorandum to the BZA, Meggs wrote, “The exemption which (Khan) claims is not applicable because a sign advertising the Chamber and the Visitor Center is not a sign erected by or on behalf of the Town or some other government (which are exempt). There is no exemption for signs erected by or on behalf of a civic organization . . . Signs placed by civic organizations are subject to the same regulations as commercial signs.”

The BZA , a quasi-judicial board, denied the appeal. While BZA decisions can be appealed to Circuit Court, Council circumvented the appeal process by voting on Monday evening to allow the sign.

The Town’s new Administrator, Gary Parker, explained to The Voice after the Council meeting that he felt the sign for the Chamber, Arts Center and Visitors Center should be exempt from the Town’s sign regulations and referenced Town statute 155.430, Sec. A, which states, “Signs erected by or on behalf of the city, county, state or federal government identifying streets or public property, conveying public information and directing or regulating pedestrian or vehicular traffic, are exempt from these regulations.”

According to the earlier decisions by Meggs and the BZA, however, none of the three offices are government entities that would qualify for an exemption from the sign regulations under this statute.

At a workshop last week, Council members referred to the proposed sign as a directional sign which is allowed but must be no larger than 4 square feet in area. The sign approved by Council, according to Parker, is 2 feet by 4 feet, which measures 8 square feet, 4 feet larger than the directional sign regulation.

Asked how the Arts Center, which is made up of individual for-profit businesses, qualifies as a government entity or civic organization and for a free sign from the Town, Parker said he guessed it was not looked at as a business.

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