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Sign ordinance comments point to public displeasure

Before getting down to regular business that included rezoning two parcels of land, the Harrison County Advisory Plan Commission heard feedback Thursday night from several people who are displeased with the sign ordinance adopted last summer by the county. (See related story, above.)
‘I’m totally opposed to this ordinance,’ said Robert Adams of New Salisbury. ‘All those signs are up for a purpose’ and have been since the county ‘was founded in the 1700s.’
Adams said he’d ‘be all for it’ in instances where signs are obstructing a person’s view, but, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
The plan commission presented the sign ordinance to the Harrison County Board of Commissioners last year, and it was adopted in July. The plan commission offered a grace period for filing for sign permits through Jan. 6, then extended the free offer to Jan. 31 after a flurry of requests the first few days in January.
More than half of those attending last week’s meeting were there because of the sign ordinance.
‘You couldn’t get all these people here away from their TVs for anything else,’ Adams said.
The public was invited to give input on the ordinance, before it was adopted, in June. Only a few people did, and most of them were more concerned about light pollution that could come from signs.
Paul Bary of Depauw, who addressed the plan commission last week, said he believes the advertisers, not the property owners, should be responsible for obtaining the permits.
He said people frequently place signs on his property along S.R. 64 ‘ for yard sales, church events, political campaigns ‘ without his permission.
‘They probably don’t even know who owns the property,’ Bary said.
Plan commission member Jim Klinstiver responded, ‘The owner of the land is the one who should be in control of what’s put up.’
The most vocal opponent to the sign ordinance was Jerry Atkins of Depauw, who called it ‘intrusive.’
He didn’t understand why the county adopted the ordinance last year.
‘It’s my understanding a sign ordinance has been in place since 1974,’ he said. ‘I don’t see anything wrong with that ordinance.’
He expressed opposition to future ordinances on noise and light, and, ‘the granddaddy of them all,’ land preservation.
‘I will not have you folks run my life,’ Atkins said. ‘I see my rights slipping away. The planning and zoning in place is intrusive enough,’ he said.
Atkins said he was told that none of the state’s other 91 counties have a county-wide sign ordinance.
Klinstiver told him that a 30-minute search on the Internet turned up 20 with similar ordinances. ‘There are probably others,’ he said.
Several realtors at the meeting were told that signs under four-feet-square are exempt.
‘Century 21 especially has issues with regard to size,’ said Vicki Kitterman, principal broker for that agency in Corydon, because their signs are different than most real estate firms.
(The sign ordinance has many variables, so it’s best for persons with questions to call the planning and zoning office to see if they are exempt. The phone number is 738-8927.)
One person, who said he represented Wilford Sieg of Ramsey, voiced concern about enforcing the ordinance.
‘The fees need to be done by elected officials and collected by elected officials,’ he said. ‘It’s too much power to put into a single person’s hands … it could be very dangerous.’
He emphasized the need for ‘a fair and equitable basis’ for enforcing the ordinance.
Plan commission vice chair Larry Ott, who presided last week in Victor McCauley’s absence, said, ‘We’re primarily going to take comments tonight … ‘
The plan commission will discuss possible amendments to the sign ordinance during a work session on Feb. 17.
County planner Eric Wise said he hopes to have some recommended amendments ready for a public hearing at the plan commission’s April 7 meeting.