City looks at sign ordinance

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cassville Bowl request causing stir

Rick Steiner, manager and partial owner of Cassville Bowl, has been trying to put up an LED sign since November of last year, but the city's sign ordinance has been slowing installation progress, and the city is now looking to revamp the ordinance all together.

Steiner had aimed to attach the LED sign to the existing sign on the Cassville Bowl property, but the city's sign ordinance is preventing him from doing so and attempts to put the sign elsewhere on the property are also being shot down.

According to the city ordinance, the 52-year-old sign at Cassville Bowl is a nonconforming sign, as it stands taller than 10 feet. Because it is nonconforming, Steiner may not attach his LED sign without lowering the original sign to meet the ordinance's requirements, a change he is not willing to make.

"I don't want to be critical of the council because they're really conscientious about doing their jobs," Steiner said. "They were unprepared for this situation. There's been a lot of passing this back and forth, and no one knows what to do."

Steiner has been passed from the council to the city's planning and zoning committee, and the latest recommendation from the committee is to offer Steiner a special use permit, providing he lowers the original sign to 10 feet. The original sign fell under a grandfather clause until 1999, but that clause has expired and the nonconforming sign is now illegal.

Steiner had hoped to put the LED sign on the other side of the parking lot, but the ordinance also prohibits pole signs, and it prohibits a business from having more than one sign.

The debacle has the Cassville city council working to redo the city's sign ordinance, which is more than 20 years old and was drafted before LED sign technology existed.

While he is being patient with the process, Steiner said he is losing money by paying interest on a sign he cannot use. Also, he wants to be advertising events at the bowling alley and in the community. He said city ordinances exist to protect the welfare of the people and to keep them safe.

"If the sign ordinance does not have anything to do with welfare, then it restricts my rights," Steiner said. "It's my freedom of speech to put up a sign on my property if it doesn't interfere with individuals welfare or the rights of the people."

Ann Hennigan, Cassville alderwoman, said she has been trying to revamp the city's sign ordinance since last August, and Steiner's request underlines the need to do so.

"Part of the problem is the lack of clarity in the sign ordinance," she said. "The big hitch with Mr. Steiner is his sign is nonconforming because it's above 10 feet, and I think 10 feet is pretty restrictive and I'd like to see it go higher."

Terry Hines, Cassville alderman, said he is against any changes to the ordinance, and said changing ordinances based on one individual's wishes is dangerous.

"Hopefully, whatever we do will be good for the whole city and business community," he said. "But, when you placate to one individual, that sets a dangerous precedent we will regret down the years."

Hennigan said there are a number of solutions to Steiner's sign issue, and even more needs to be done to make the sign ordinance more current.

"The council and the planning and zoning commission need to make the ordinance more current and there are a lot of technology issues that need to be included," she said. "I'd like for see the height limit raised to 18 or 20 feet, which would bring Mr. Steiner's sign into conformance and allow him to put up his LED sign."

Hennigan said there have also been other requests from businesses that lead her to want to revamp the ordinance. Hennigan said she hopes the council and committee will have the ordinance ready to go in a month's time, hoping to allow Steiner to put up his sign as soon as possible.

"We may have to give a special use permit to allow Mr. Steiner to have two signs, and because of the location of the bowling alley, I don't think that's out of line," she said. "His level of patience with this is incredible."

Hines said he does not support changing the sign height requirements, citing how unfair it is to change it now when the city has forced other businesses to lower signs to adhere to the ordinance.

"I don't think the ordinance needs to be redone," he said. "Mr. Steiner put lights up on his sign without permission and tore the base down without permission, which makes it a pole sign instead of a ground sign. He seems to want us to wrap our ordinance around what he wants, and that's a dangerous precedent for the city to bend to one person's wishes.

"My take is, with the way the ordinance is written now, he should lower his sign to 10 feet and reattach the base, and then he can attach his LED sign. He needs to follow the ordinance, but he seems unwilling to do that. I am not trying to be a hard nose about it, but the ordinance is the ordinance, and people have already invested in 10-foot signs, and we've made one business, El Mariachi Restaurant, lower its sign. So, we have to stick with it."

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