Posted on

Free sign permit period nears end

Business owners with existing signs have eight days left to apply for a permit ‘ for free ‘ that would allow them to be in compliance with the county’s new sign ordinance.
The ordinance was adopted in July by the Harrison County Board of Commissioners on the recommendation of the county’s Advisory Plan Commission. Basically, it addresses the types and sizes of signs each lot can have. It also applies to real estate signs on commercial property. (This is only for areas outside Corydon’s two-mile fringe.)
Since its adoption, only three businesses have applied for the permit, which is free until Jan. 6.
‘That’s right, only three,’ said Harrison County planner Eric Wise.
When the grace period expires next week, violators could be subject to fines of up to $300 a day if the signs are not removed or modified to meet the new requirements, Wise said.
‘Since only three permits have been issued, the plan commission will have to decide how they want to handle it,’ Wise said, ‘and it will likely be the first order of business in the new year.’
When it adopted the ordinance, the plan commission had indicated that the planning and zoning office would first send a letter requesting the situation be rectified. A violator has the option of seeking an appeal.
If the request for compliance is ignored, the plan commission has several options, including imposing a fine and issuing a stop work order.
Taking the violator to court would be the next step if the problem is still not corrected.
‘Nationwide, the standard practice for addressing existing signs when a new set of standards are adopted is to require the old signs to be replaced within three, five or seven years,’ Wise said.
‘The plan commission did not feel that such a policy was appropriate in Harrison County, but they understood that in order for existing signs to be allowed to remain, a complete record/inventory was needed to insure that no one was ever wrongly accused of installing a new sign without a permit.
‘To protect the rights of the owners of existing signs, the plan commission established a six-month application period to obtain a free sign permit which would create a permanent record of all of the signs that existed before the new standards were adopted,’ he said.
‘I don’t think anyone imagined that no one would take the time to get a free permit, especially since it would keep them from spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to replace a sign or signs.’
Wise said the planning and zoning office began a ‘sign survey’ after it looked like participation in the free permit option was going to be low. The staff has compiled photographs of hundreds of signs just to get an idea of how many may not meet the new standards.
‘As anticipated, most do not,’ Wise said.
As defined in the ordinance, a sign is ‘any device, fixture, placard, or structure that uses any color, form, graphic, illumination, symbol, or text to advertise, announce the purposes of or identify the purpose of a person or entity, or to communicate information of any kind to the public which is designed to be legible at or beyond the property line of the lot on which the sign is located by an individual who meets the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ visual acuity criteria to be eligible for a driver’s license.’
The ordinance also specifies animated signs, agricultural signs, banners, building facade, commercial message, copy area, display area, embellishments, flags, flashing signs, freestanding signs, illuminated signs, incidental signs, nonconforming signs, permanent signs, pennants, projecting signs, public information signs, residential signs, roof-mounted signs, temporary signs, wall signs and window signs.
‘In general, if a commercial property has more than one freestanding sign ‘ a sign freestanding sign that is more than 32 square feet in size or the top of freestanding sign is more than six feet above the ground ‘ an existing sign permit should be obtained,’ he said.
Also, if a residential property or farm has any sign that is larger than four square feet or six feet above the ground, the owner also should make a point to get a free permit.
To obtain a free permit for signs that existed on or before July 6, 2004, the owner needs to bring in photos of the signs; a complete list of the size, height and original cost of all signs; a copy of the deed for the property, and a sketch showing where the signs are located on the site, including distances from the center of the road and neighbors’ property.
‘As long as the completed application is submitted before Jan. 7, we will process the application,’ Wise said. ‘We know it is an inconvenience, but this process was determined to be the fairest way to insure that existing signs are given the protection they deserve.’
Applications are available in the plan commission office at 124 S. Mulberry St during normal business hours or they can be faxed by calling 738-8927.