Planning commission approves off-premises signs

-A A +A
By Joshua Shepherd

By Josh Shepherd, News writer
After several months of debate, the Cynthiana-Harrison County - Berry Joint Planning Commission approved the conditional use of off-premises electronic signs Monday night at their regular June meeting.
However, while the new amendments loosen the restrictions on off-premises electronic signs, the controversy over the electronic sign owned by Eric Hadley at the intersection of Main and Pike Streets, remains an unanswered question.
The amendment approves the conditional use of electronic signs for zones designated as  B-3 (Highway-Commercial Use), I-1 (Industrial One), and  I-2 (Industrial-Two).
But the location of the electronic sign downtown is in an area designated as B-1.
Jack Keith, Cynthiana attorney and a city commission member, attended the meeting with the Hadley-owned sign on his mind.
Also present at the meeting was Frazer LeBus, chair and interim director of the Cynthiana-Harrison County Economic Development Authority.
Keith asked what the Planning Commission’s disposition toward the electronic sign downtown. Did they expect to have it shut down or moved, he asked?
Avi Bear, planning commission chair, commented that  Keith’s question would be best answered by Bonnie Skinner, director of planning and community development, following approval of the amendment and its subsequent consideration by the Board of Adjustments.
The board, Bear said, was not rendering any kind of decision about that specific sign.
Bear proceeded to summarize the specifics of the amendment.
The owner of an approved electronic sign would be required to post a bond with the planning commission to cover the cost of the sign’s removal if the owner went bankrupt or planned to abandon operation of the sign.
Furthermore, an amendment was added to the general provisions that allowed image displays to change every 15 seconds rather than every 60 seconds, Bear said.
Keith expressed support for both changes.
Presenting these suggested changes, Bear said that he felt the language maintained a good balance between the need of local businesses to advertise, but with necessary controls to keep things from getting out of hand.
“We are letting ‘the genie out of the bottle’ in a controlled way,” Bear said.
LeBus also expressed support for the proposed changes.
“For certain local businesses, this type of advertising is effective. It shows people that Cynthiana has a thriving commercial district,” LeBus said.
Commission member Rick Boland, in support of the amendments, said that electronic advertising signs are a cultural change item. They are no more than an extension of the type of thing small businesses did in the 40s and 50s when elaborate lighted signs dotted the highways trying to draw customers.
“I’m glad we’re making this change,” he said.

Responding to criticism from Code Enforcement Chair
Included with the board’s proposal for the off-premises sign ordinance, Bear included copies of a news story in which Mike Aldridge, chair of the Cynthiana Code Enforcement Board, characterized the Planning Commission as a “champion of inaction and obstruction.”
Aldridge made those comments at the last regular meeting of Cynthiana City Commission in opposition to a proposal to combine the city’s code enforcement office with the Harrison County Nuisance Ordinance enforcement into a function of the joint planning and zoning office.
Board attorney Brian Privett, speaking as an observer of the planning commission board, said that Aldridge’s criticism could not be more wrong.
“I know what this board has done. With what I know about the work that this board has done, I know that the criticism is not a true statement,” Privett said.
The proposal to combine city and county functions in code enforcement is ‘out of the box’ thinking, Bear said.
While Aldridge may not like the speed at which things happen, Bear said, there is a specific process that must be followed.
“We have to work through this process” and establish a case. “You can’t get these things done overnight. Legal procedures won’t allow it,” Bear said.
Adding another voice of support to the Commission, LeBus said that there are misconceptions about the function of Planning and Zoning boards.
“This is a group that is trying to walk a tight line between respecting private property and protecting the general interests of the community in terms of its presentation,” LeBus said.
 There is a balance between these interests, LeBus said, and he feels the board maintains it.
Before adjournment, Bear expressed his appreciation for the work that the board members put into the Commission and passed compliments to the staff for their work.