Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Bedford ready to update sign law


Township signs in the future may be monument type, at left, rather than lollipop type, at rear.

lisa dutton / blade Enlarge

TEMPERANCE - After more than two years of conflict with its business community, Bedford Township appears ready to pass a series of amendments next month to a 2000 ordinance that banned highway-style “lollipop” signs in favor of something a little more up-scale.

The proposed changes mandate clear delineation of ownership of almost every sign, eases restrictions on temporary seasonal signs, like those used to sell pumpkins, and allows a five-year window for non-conforming signs to come into compliance once changes to a “grandfathered” sign have been made.

But while the ordinance will still mandate a transition from pole signs that could be as much as 40-feet high to monument signs no larger than 7 feet, it will allow businesses more time to comply, explained Dennis Jenkins, Bedford Township's planning and zoning coordinator.

“Anybody that changes their sign, if they tear it down completely, they'll still have to put a monument sign in. But if somebody buys a building and just puts a new face on the sign outside, that's when the five-year grace period would kick in,” Mr. Jenkins said.

That grace period, and the current lack thereof, has been the cause of much consternation since the sign ordinance - which township board members admitted needed “tweaking” - was passed back in March 2000.

“You would have a commercial building, like the one at Lewis Avenue and Sterns, and tenants moved out and new ones moved in, and the way the ordinance read, they couldn't change the tenants on that pole sign,” said township trustee Arnold Jennings.

Mr. Jennings, who also sits on the planning commission, said the current five-year grace period isn't long enough, in his view, but was forwarded to the township board for a final determination.

“I'm thinking maybe seven years or even 10 years. But the planning commission decided to let the township board hash that over and come up with a firm number that everybody's comfortable with,” Mr. Jennings said.

The amendments, while long overdue, still don't address every issue local business owners have with the ordinances, the president of a newly-formed township business organization said.

“The bottom line to the sign ordinance is that it's an unfair expense to the business community when the sign that is on the property currently is adequate,” said Chuck Fallor, president of the Bedford Industrial and Commercial Association. “To make people discard perfectly good signs is a tax on business, and it's ridiculous.”

Mr. Fallor said the sign ordinance, when taken in connection with new ordinances regarding commercial architecture, lighting, and landscaping is like telling every resident in the township that their homes had to be made of brick.

“And if you didn't have a brick house and you decided to change the rain gutters, then you had to tear down the place and rebuild it. It's crazy,” Mr. Fallor said. The township board had planned to consider the amendments at its meeting last week, but put the issue off until next month to consider township legal counsel Tom Graham's opinions on another matter: whether the township can offer local businesses incentives to bring their signs into compliance.

While it may be possible for the township to ease the transition to monument signs for some business owners in some fashion, it can not do so through any form of tax abatement, Mr. Graham said. Under state law, abatements are available only for industrial property, and even that is a difficult proposition.

The township might be able to waive application or perhaps other fees for new signs on existing businesses to bring them into compliance, Mr. Graham said. Ultimately, however, that decision will be left to the township board.

The one month delay won't make much difference overall, but will allow the board a chance to study all the changes being proposed and their potential impacts, Mr. Jennings said.

“I think the township board is taking a position with any ordinances that are going to come before us anymore that we have to weigh things on both sides, so that we don't pass an ordinance that's not going to be workable for the businesses or the citizens. We're just trying to do our homework,” Mr. Jennings said.

Mr. Graham said he believes that the changes to the sign ordinance, if and when they are adopted, will go a long way toward relieving some of the pressure points between Bedford Township and its business community.

“It's not going to make everybody happy, but I think the changes are going to help quite a bit,” Mr. Graham said.

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