Planners wade into sign issue

In September, the City of Warren Planning Commission directed representatives of the Crary Art Gallery to go through the proper channels in regard to a sign put up at the gallery that is in violation of the city’s sign ordinance.

Prior to that decision, Chairman Don Nelson had argued that the commission should act to settle the problem.

On Tuesday, the proper channel – the Zoning Hearing Board – denied the Crary’s application for a variance. The sign measures about 50 square feet. The gallery is in an R3 residential zone where the sign limit is four square feet. In the business district, the sign could be 240 square feet, Nelson said.

On Wednesday, Nelson encouraged his fellow commission members to take action to help the gallery.

“I think we still have the opportunity to remedy the situation with the Crary sign,” Nelson said.

He suggested making a special category, perhaps for art galleries and museums, within the R3 regulations in the sign ordinance. The planners could assign a maximum size and include a caveat that signs be approved by the commission, he said.

“The Crary is a regionally and nationally recognized museum,” Nelson said.

While the other members did not argue about the Crary’s value in the community, some contended that it was not the commission’s place to adjust an ordinance to help an organization that designed, paid for, constructed, and put up a sign that is far larger than the legal limit for the zone without checking with city officials. They expressed concerns with setting unpleasant precedents.

“This isn’t about their sign,” Bill Tarpenning said. “It’s about what’s going to happen afterwards.”

“If they had done proper due diligence, we wouldn’t even be talking about this,” Pat Scutella said. “We’re jumping through hoops.”

Bob Dilks suggested the board might not have approved the sign in advance. “Spin back the hands of time,” he said. “What would we have done? Would we have approved? Could we have?”

Although the argument was not about the sign, two members expressed problems with it. Chuck Conaway said the sign was “done very badly from an architectural point of view.”

Scutella said the lighting is too stark and “does not fit into that neighborhood. Drive by there at night.”

“The garden gate’s broken,” Nelson said. “I don’t know if Billy or Bobby broke it. I will come up with something to propose to the group next time.”

City Manager Nancy Freenock said it is not the city’s responsibility to help out a resident that is in violation of the law. “We’re not omnipotent, we don’t always know what’s going on if you don’t come to us,” she said. “… you can’t just not follow the law.”

On the other hand, “I think what you’re trying to do is commendable,” Freenock said.

“If we can address this, I would love to see us do it,” Nelson said. “It’s the right thing to do.”