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Published: Wednesday, 2/10/2010

Sylvania Township auto dealer to alter sign

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sylvania Township and ODOT say Taylor's bright sign has drawn complaints about the possibility of drivers finding it so distracting that it might lead to crashes. Sylvania Township and ODOT say Taylor's bright sign has drawn complaints about the possibility of drivers finding it so distracting that it might lead to crashes.
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Taylor Automotive's electronic sign along I-475/U.S. 23 in Sylvania Township has attracted lots of attention since erected three years ago - and not all of it has been from fans.

In response to a letter from township zoning officer Timothy DeWitt, the auto dealership agreed to slow down the interval of message changes on the eye-catching sign from eight seconds to 20 seconds.

Taylor also is obtaining a letter from the sign's manufacturer documenting that the sign complies with the township's brightness standard, also at Mr. DeWitt's request, said Peter Demczuk, Taylor Automotive's chief financial officer and staff counsel.

Mr. Demczuk said his company isn't sure the township's electronic-sign regulations apply to Taylor's sign because it's on dealership property. The township zoning code lists electronic signs under the "off-premises" heading that typically governs billboard companies. Nevertheless it agreed to slowing the message interval in the spirit of compromise, he said.

The eight-second interval, he said, was based on Ohio Department of Transportation regulations that apply to signs along state highways.

"We've not received any complaints, but it has gotten a lot of positive attention," said Mr. Demczuk. He said that along with advertising for Taylor Kia and Taylor Cadillac, the sign also carries public-service messages including, when needed, Amber Alerts about missing children.

But the township and ODOT say the bright sign, visible from more than a mile away on the freeway, has attracted complaints from people who question whether it is so distracting that it might lead to crashes.

"Our permit department has gotten some calls, either from motorists or people from the neighborhood, saying that the sign is inappropriate, that it's too bright and distracting," said Theresa Pollick, an ODOT spokesman in Bowling Green.

ODOT regulations state only that an illuminated sign should not be so bright as to cause glare or other driver impairment, Ms. Pollick said, but state officials are unaware of any accidents attributable to the sign.

In a similar situation elsewhere in Ohio, the spokesman said, a sign owner complied with an ODOT request to reduce intensity, and a letter requesting similar consideration has been sent to Taylor.

Mr. DeWitt said he first received a complaint about the Taylor sign about a year ago pertaining to how quickly the messages changed - and at that time, the messages changed every 20 seconds.

Mr. DeWitt said he hasn't singled Taylor out for enforcement. Seven other electronic-sign owners in the township whose signs were changing messages at eight-second intervals received letters, he said last week, and six of them immediately complied. He did not identify the lone holdout. When Taylor obtained its sign permit in 2006, Mr. DeWitt said, the auto dealer agreed to a five-minute interval between message changes. A copy of the permit provided to The Blade has a hand-written notation of "10-15 min. message intervals."

But Mr. Demczuk said he wasn't sure Taylor had ever agreed to an interval that long. A company letter dated about a month after the permit application states only that the company was aware that the township was requesting that, among other things, "each message should be limited to a change in frequency of no sooner than five-minute intervals."

In response to Mr. Demczuk's statement that electronic-sign regulations might not apply to the Taylor sign, Mr. DeWitt said that because it carries ads for Taylor businesses elsewhere, not just the Taylor Kia dealership, it qualifies as an off-premises sign.

In any case, the zoning officer said, "we're very happy about" Taylor's willingness to comply with the 20-second limit, conceding that a five-minute interval is "not really realistic."

Township legal counsel "is busy word-smithing an amendment" to the zoning code that will clarify the regulations pertaining to on-premises and off-premises signs, Mr. DeWitt said. There is no plan to change the brightness or message-interval regulations, he said.

"These signs are so new, there are a lot of nuances not addressed yet in the regulations," he said.



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