Antrim Township turns down request for sign variances

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

But for one member, an Antrim Township Zoning Hearing Board decision could have been made quickly. Because an even number of people were present to consider the variance requests of Foremost Industries March 10, it took 90 minutes to settle the controversy.

Ronald Cordell, Ryan Jones, Rodney Zeger and Rhetta Martin eventually denied the requests of Foremost, represented by CEO Jim Rockwell.

Rockwell asked that the company be allowed to erect a billboard on an easement at 2375 Buchanan Trail W. Foremost was in negotiations to sell the office building and lot to Greencastle-Antrim School District, but wanted to put up the sign to direct customers to its plant four miles west. It was establishing a model home village near Upton.

“It will be a well-designed sign, and lit,” Rockwell said.

Foremost would maintain a triangular easement along the Conococheague Creek and Route 16 permanently, he said. They would use the 8 x 16 sign initially, and maybe later let someone else use it.

Rockwell said the school district was OK with the plan.

The zoning ordinance allowed one sign per property and there was already a small one in front of the parking lot.

Foremost also applied for a variance to put the sign 34.5 feet from the right-of-way instead of 50 feet required by the ordinance, due to interference from the creek and a power line.

Antrim position

Antrim zoning officer Sylvia House testified that the supervisors, who had honored the recommendation of the Planning Commission, wanted the ordinance to be upheld and the variances denied.

She explained that the requests did not meet the five exceptions to merit variances. The applicant had to prove that unique circumstances created a hardship, that those circumstances prevented reasonable use of the property, that the hardship was not created by the applicant, that a variance would not impair adjacent property, and that any variance would be the minimum to afford relief.

House contended that Foremost created its own hardship, since the property already had one allowed sign. That smaller free-standing sign complied with setbacks.

“A second sign is a luxury,” she said. “It is something they want, not something that is needed. They want the setback reduced, when they could make a smaller sign and comply.”

She also believed the billboard would block the view of the office building from passing motorists. It would also create clutter, and the township wanted to limit the number of signs on its roads. She said there were plenty of other locations Foremost could put a billboard.

Legal advice

Board members presented alternatives for placement and size of a new sign, so hearing board solicitor Eileen Finucane stepped in to remind them of their responsibility. Their first duty was to analyze the request against the five clauses.

A Zeger/Cordell motion to deny the request for a second sign tied at 2. Board members again presented different ways to allow another sign. Martin said since the site was not residential, she moved to allow a billboard. It died for lack of a second.

Jones/Martin moved to allow a small sign for two years. At that point Rockwell said Foremost would share the billboard with the school district, since no variance was needed if the current sign came down. Or, he continued, Foremost would use the billboard and the district could put signage on the building itself. That stalled 2-2.

Zeger said, “Again, Foremost can put a sign anywhere. It will cost them money no matter what.”

Jones asked what would happen if another owner of the property came along. House said they would not be allowed to put up their own sign. They would not realize the restriction until they came to Antrim asking for a permit.

“We’re tying the hands of future owners,” Zeger said.

Cordell was also concerned about other businesses in the township wanting to install billboards if Foremost was allowed.

Since the conversation showed that the hearing board members agreed to just one sign on the property, Finucane said if Foremost was granted the variance for a billboard, it would retain the rights to the sign, and anyone buying the property later “would have to deal with it.”

She returned to the duties of the board.

“Your job is to apply standards under the law. A variance should be pursuant to legal requirements the applicant has presented to you,” she said. She did not want empathy for the applicant to interfere.

House added, “Line by line through the law, Antrim Township says they do not meet the requirements.”

A Zeger/Jones motion to deny the setback variance passed 3-1, with Martin the dissenter.

After the meeting, Rockwell refused to comment.

Postscript

After the hearing, Finucane mildly chastised the board. She and the transcriber both said it was the longest hearing they remembered. It ran longer than necessary because it got off track.

“Standards are tough,” Finucane said. “They were thoroughly vetted.

Your job is to uphold the standards, except in unusual cases.”