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It must have been a sign

The Harrison County Advisory Plan Commission has apparently taken the public’s displeasure with a new ordinance as a sign that it should do something about it.
The commission unanimously agreed Thursday night to extend the grace period to obtain a permit for existing signs through the end of the month.
‘We’ve had a pretty big flurry (of applicants) since the article came out (Dec. 29) in the paper,’ said Harrison County Planner Eric Wise, who researched other communities’ sign ordinances before drafting one that was adopted in July.
The deadline to apply for a free permit for an existing sign was Jan. 6, but the commission agreed to extend it to Jan. 31.
Plan commission member J.R. Eckart, who chairs the Harrison County Board of Commissioners, said he received numerous phone calls ‘from disgruntled people’ who were upset with the ordinance, many who alleged the ordinance was secretly adopted.
Jim Klinstiver, another plan commission member, contends that ‘everybody got numb to it’ as the plan commission, then the county commissioners, worked on the ordinance.
‘It seemed like two years that we worked on it,’ he said, adding that this newspaper published several articles about the ordinance, both before and after it was adopted.
Another complaint concerns the requirement that applicants provide a copy of their deed when they applied for the permit.
Terry Smith, the county administrator, said that stipulation also created plenty of work for Harrison County Recorder Barb Mathes, as she filled many requests to copy deeds.
The lengthy ordinance, based on similar ordinances in other communities, defines a sign as ‘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.’
It 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.
‘It was never our intent to get rid of any of these existing signs,’ Wise said.
Rather, the ordinance helps the planning and zoning office establish an inventory of the signs that exist throughout the county, excluding those in the two-mile fringe of Corydon. The county plan commission has no jurisdiction in the two-mile fringe.
Eckart referred to the ordinance as ‘one comprehensive document’ that was devised in part because of a situation several years ago on Buffalo Trace Road involving an old school bus with obscenities painted on it.
As detailed as it is, the ordinance fails to address some circumstances.
‘All kinds of new questions come up with it,’ Smith said.
One mentioned last week involves signs that are usually placed at town limits that show what civic groups are located there and who should apply for the permit.
Wise said the planning and zoning office tries to tie the permit to the property owner.
‘We’ve been trying to give everybody as much of a break as we can,’ he said.
Some plan commissioner members, including Larry Ott, suggested buying advertising space ‘to get the word out’ about the ordinance.
Wise said there are funds available that could be used for that purpose and the staff will consider running ads in The Monday Shopper, a weekly publication that is sent to every residence in Harrison County. (Persons who receive their mail at a post office box don’t get the Shopper.) ‘It wouldn’t catch the people who live out of state,’ he said.
And Eckart added, ‘It seems like we could reduce a lot of heartburn if we do away with requiring (a copy of the) deed.’
In addition to extending the grace period, Wise recommended that rather than using fines to enforce existing signs that do not receive a free permit, persons who apply for any building permit and are found not in compliance with the new standards would not be granted the building permits until they are in compliance.
‘So, in effect, nothing will happen until new construction or remodeling is proposed,’ Wise said, ‘and at that time the signs can be addressed.’
Commission member Charlie Crawford said he preferred this remedy over issuing fines.
Smith welcomed the extension of the grace period.
‘People don’t want to be penalized,’ he said.
Free permits are being issued to applicants who had signs on or before July 6, 2004. However, there is a fee for a permit for a sign erected after that date.
‘We’ve issued a couple of new permits in this process,’ said Wise, adding that applicants ‘are getting more signage than they thought they would.’
The sign ordinance can be read online at Click on New Sign Ordinance.
Applications for new sign permits, as well as free permits for existing signs, are also available at that Web site.
For more information regarding the sign ordinance, call the planning and zoning office at 738-8927.