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Sign ordinance goes back to drawing board

After much criticism of the new sign ordinance at last week’s Harrison County Commissioners’ meeting, the board majority sent the ordinance back to its planning and zoning advisors for a rewrite.
Commissioner James Goldman’s motion to do so was seconded by Jim Heitkemper, who said the ordinance was never intended to ‘create a hardship’ for residents. As an example, Heitkemper said the requirement to provide a deed for the property on which a sign is or would be located apparently creates one of those hardships. ‘We’re not going to be doing that,’ he said.
In fact, everything about the sign ordinance is now up for revision.
Planner Eric Wise said anyone with questions or concerns about the sign ordinance, which will now be revised, should call his office, 738-8927. Anyone who wishes to address the plan commission in person should ask to be on the board’s agenda. Meetings are the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 in the commissioners’ room at the courthouse.
‘If they will call ahead, we will put them on the agenda, and they will be heard first thing,’ Wise said. ‘They can hash it out with the plan commission and then be free to go home.’
Comments may also be submitted in writing to the plan commission, 124 S. Mulberry St., Corydon, IN 47112. Wise said those written statements as well as concerns aired at the meetings will be made part of the information turned over to the commissioners when the ordinance is resubmitted to them.
Under the ordinance to be revised, two areas of confusion seem to be the area which would be covered by the sign ordinance and what types of signs would require a permit.
The ordinance would apply everywhere in Harrison County except Corydon and its two-mile fringe (Corydon has its own sign ordinance which applies to those residents and businesses). Free-standing signs up to four square feet would be allowed at a resident’s house or six square feet at a farm. No permit would be required for those signs. Otherwise, residents and businesses should check with the plan commission to find out if a permit is required.
Goldman pointed out at last week’s meeting that he voted against adopting the ordinance when it came before the commissioners in July because he said it was too vague and left parts of the ordinance open to interpretation.
At that time though, Chairman J.R. Eckart said while ‘not perfect,’ the ordinance offered a start in controlling a possible proliferation of signs. Eckart, who is also a member of the plan commission that worked on the ordinance for a couple of years, seconded Heitkemper’s motion to adopt the ordinance in July.
At that time, residents apparently became aware that permits were necessary, but for anyone who already had a sign, permits could be obtained at the plan commission without charge. As of Jan. 18, Wise said, there have been 246 applications for sign permits.
Such ‘grandfathered signs’ can remain in place as long as they are kept in a good state of repair.
Still, Goldman said, ‘I haven’t found one person who is happy with this sign ordinance. Government should make life easier for its citizens, not more difficult.’
Goldman said it’s apparent residents weren’t aware of the plan commission’s public hearings on adopting such an ordinance.
Eckart and others pointed out that the issue was reported in this newspaper when it first arose and continually since then. ‘It wasn’t done outside the public eye,’ Eckart said. ‘I think it took so long people got to the point they brushed over it.
‘Every meeting it was worked at was a public meeting.’
Wise suggested that this time two public meetings be advertised specifically to work on the proposed revisions.
Goldman preferred to repeal the entire ordinance, but that wouldn’t be legal, said Corydon attorney Darin Bussabarger, who was standing in for the commissioners’ attorney Chris Byrd.
Bussabarger said, ‘I have reviewed the ordinance thoroughly; the base is solid. It’s the same as other town and city ordinances.
‘From a legal standpoint, it is solid,’ Bussabarger said. ‘From a political standpoint … ‘
In seconding Goldman’s motion for revision, Heitkemper apologized that it was necessary. He said, ‘I didn’t want to create a hardship, but I saw it as a good way to prepare ourselves for growth.’
Actually, the need for a sign ordinance dates back a few years, Eckart said.
At one time, a property owner on Buffalo Trace Road, in a dispute with a neighbor, painted the side of a school bus with profanity and parked it for the neighbor to see. Despite numerous complaints, the commissioners could do nothing because there was not a sign ordinance to prohibit it, Eckart said.
Eckart said there is nothing in the ordinance requiring a deed, which was mentioned earlier. ‘That was addressed in zoning and taken out. There is nothing in this ordinance intended to harm anyone.’
Several citizens spoke out with questions concerning the ordinance and said although one might be necessary, the current one was more than necessary.
Wilfred Sieg Sr., one of the owners of Ramsey Popcorn Co., complained that the ordinance creates an undue hardship for his company and others. Ramsey Popcorn has seven or eight signs of various sizes, some of which are directional, and one is on the top of the popcorn plant roof. Requiring each sign to have a permit and that the permit be posted at a visible location at all times, is ‘rather stupid,’ Sieg said.
He was also concerned that a planning employee rather than elected official would enforce compliance with the requirements and impose fees.
Those fees would require the approval of the commissioners, Wise said.
‘I just don’t see any need for the sign ordinance,’ Sieg added. ‘That’s all I have to say.’
Robert Adams of Jackson Township said he is also opposed to the ordinance for several reasons. ‘The main thing is it’s not needed,’ Adams said. ‘The only complaints I hear about signs is the politicians don’t take them up quick enough after the elections.
‘If you see a sign directing you to a place, it’s appreciated,’ Adams said. ‘We’ve been here almost 200 years; we’ve done real well without a sign ordinance, and I’d like to see us do another 100.’