Like the sign, but deny a variance

When members of the Crary Art Gallery’s board of directors went before the City of Warren Zoning Hearing Board on Tuesday morning, they heard support for their sign.

However, the support they received was not what they were looking for.

The three members of the board said they liked the appearance of the sign.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful sign,” member Dick Campbell said.

But, using terms like, “regretfully” and “I have to”, the members voted unanimously against a zoning ordinance variance that would have allowed the sign to remain in place as is.

Crary board members and supporters addressed the hearing board regarding how important the gallery is in terms of cultural and economic development. They also spoke about how the one-story building can be lost in a neighborhood dominated by two- and three-story homes.

“That (sign) design was the next branding that we needed,” board member Brad Conquer said. “The Crary Art Gallery is now complete with that sign. It’s professional inside and out.”

Artist Ines Nelson “could not have designed a sign that was smaller that would have gone with the building,” board member Keith Kirsch said. “A smaller sign would have enhanced the forbiddenness.”

“We’re asking for relief because that is the sign we need,” he said.

The sign is about 50 square feet. The ordinance allows for signs of four square feet in a Residential-3 zone.

“The square footage greatly exceeds anything within that district,” City Planner David Hildebrand said.

“It is a much larger sign than the ordinance allows, but it is appropriate,” Kirsch said. “We needed a special type of sign that would go along with the property and that is what we’ve done.”

The applicants had to satisfy five needs to qualify for a variance: unique physical circumstances or condition; because of such physical circumstances or conditions, there is no possibility that the property can be developed in strict conformity with the provisions of the zoning ordinance; the unnecessary hardship was not created by the party filing for the variance; the variance would not be detrimental to public welfare nor the neighborhood; and the variance represents the minimum variance that will afford relief.

Hearing board member Fran Hanlin said the presentation satisfied the first four, but not the fifth requirement.

“I thought that it was going to be very difficult for you to meet the five criteria,” he said. “I still have trouble with number five. I think this is more of an issue for the ordinance itself.”

“What it comes down to for me is, the sign does not meet the ordinance that we have,” Hanlin said. “I have to vote no.”

“I’m 100 percent for (the Crary), with the exception of trying to follow the ordinance and the mandates that are before us,” Campbell said. “No.”

“Regretfully, I am of the same opinion… no,” zoning hearing board member Burt Alexander said. “The variance is denied.”

The next available step for the Crary board is to file for a zoning ordinance amendment.

There is a fee to file that application with city council. The application would go before the planning commission and return to council for a decision.

The planning commission has already heard about the sign, but not under the auspices of an ordinance amendment application.

Crary board members attended the September planning commission meeting. There, too, support for the gallery and its sign were unanimous, but the board left without approval to keep its sign.

Although the planning commission did not change the ordinance, the members approved a motion to send a letter of support to the zoning hearing board. Chairman Don Nelson volunteered to write that letter.