Council rejects Crary sign application

Warren City Council rejected a marquee sign application from the Crary Art Gallery during a special meeting on Monday.

Council initially tabled action on the proposal last month.

But the issue at hand remained the same.

The ordinance defines a marquee sign as “any sign attached to a marquee for the purpose of identifying a movie theater or similar place of entertainment.”

“The real question (is) what was raised the last time,” Crary board member Raymond Pring said. “Does this fall within the definition of the sign ordinance? Is this a marquee? Is the gallery a movie theater or place of similar entertainment?”

Pring said that a review of case law “doesn’t do anything to define very much what a marquee is.”

“A movie theater shows numerous shows for various times by various artists,” he explained. “We are similar to a movie theater in that respect.”

Pring said the gallery would look to use the marquee space to announce shows and other events.

“The gallery has submitted this application (and) has met all the requirements of this application,” he added. “This ordinance, the way it is crafted… is not a bright line test. (It) requires discretion.”

He also made the argument that the sign would ultimately be good for the city.

“The gallery is good for the City of Warren and its citizens,” he said. “The gallery needs this sign. The sign is good for the gallery. By implication it is good for the City of Warren.”

“Are you trying to say the gallery itself is a place of entertainment?” Mayor Maurice Cashman asked.

“Yes, I think I am,” Pring said. “People go there primarily to view art and be entertained.”

Cashman said the gallery is “more cultural and educational from my viewpoint and not entertainment.”

“The courts have defined ‘place of entertainment’ very broadly,” Councilman Dr. Howard Ferguson said. “Calling it a place of entertainment does not bother me.”

Arguing that the gallery may need to be considered a commercial enterprise, Councilman John Lewis said that all the case law references cited pertained to commercial ventures. “It’s not entertainment. It’s educational,” he said. He added that the application “should be denied” because the zoning hearing board has previously denied it based on the precedent it might set.

He then made a motion that the application be denied because a “marquee is not applicable to that area as an R-3 (residential zoning district) and in light of the zoning hearing board’s previous decision.

Harvey said that the zoning argument is “irrelevant” because marquees are not limited in any zoning districts.

“(It) comes down to a matter of opinion,” said Ferguson.

Councilman Gregory Fraser, who said he has been a supporter of the Crary’s work, said that the application is an “attempt to avoid complying with the laws that everyone else must” and they they are now acting to “try to save their illegal sign.”

Explaining that “our law presumes a pre-existing marquee… to which a sign is attached” and that the Crary is “not similar to a movie theatre, this petition using common sense should be denied.”

“This petition is after the fact,” said Councilman Richard Kolcharno. “They’re (Crary) doing a good job. I appreciate that… what they have there is just way out of proportion.”

Harvey said that the only complaint received about the sign was from “someone that doesn’t live in the neighborhood.” He said that council was dealing with “nit picky zoning regulations.

“I think we should just approve the sign application and then move forward from there.”

Councilman Jim Zavinski presented the issue, generally, in a different light.

“The art gallery is a great place, an asset to the community,” he said, “there is no question about that. We have more important things to worry about… sewage plant, pot hole streets.”

The motion to deny the application passed in a 5-2 vote with Ferguson and Harvey voting in opposition.