For grandfathered signs, the proof is in the permitting
Occasionally, despite one’s best intentions to provide the right board or commission with the proper permitting to ensure a smooth continuation of a project, a request is presented incorrectly.
“I’m not sure that this item is properly before the board,” Assistant City Attorney Brent Lloyd said to the Board of Adjustment at its Aug. 13 meeting, referring to a request for a sign variance by representatives from a strip mall at 1030 and 1044 Norwood Park Blvd. in North Austin.
He explained: “The issue is that off-premise signs are prohibited, and the board cannot generally grant a use that is prohibited.” He also pointed out that the applicants don’t have evidence that this sign was originally properly installed or permitted, which they would need in order to receive a grandfather exception for an off-premise sign.
Greg Cervenka, the president of the Norwood Park Owners Association, assured the board that “the sign department told us the original sign was properly permitted.” He was not, however, able to produce evidence of past permitting.
According to Cervenka, the original permit granted the plaza off-site signage along both the U.S. Highway 183 and Interstate 35 access roads to assist with the visibility difficulties of the site. When the highways were expanded, the highway department removed the signage because it was standing in the newly widened access road.
Cervenka requested not only to replace the U.S. 183 sign at a high-visibility, off-site vantage point but to raise it from its original 35 feet to 50 feet to allow for better visibility through the trees from the raised feeder road.
“I’m pretty hard-assed about the signs,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen. “The thing about this sign here … it’s very confusing to get to Walmart. I do agree that you need a sign.”
Still, Board Member Brooke Bailey noted that requesting a variance for a 50-foot sign because a 35-foot one would be hidden by trees did not, in her opinion, meet the required hardship for a variance. “Why can you not trim (the trees) now so that you can make the 35 feet?” she asked.
Phil Moncada, a representative for the Norwood Park Owners Association, noted that to make the sign noticeable, they would have to remove a third of the canopy, and that would require a tree removal permit that he doesn’t think will be granted. Plus, he noted, the trees will eventually grow back.
Despite Moncada’s defense of the request, Board Member Don Leighton-Burwell said, “I’m not convinced you guys have exhausted all of the options.”
To allow the applicants time to devise a better design for the sign and find the original permits, as well as allow the board time to consult with the city’s legal department over the validity of bringing the case back before the board, the board voted unanimously to postpone the case until Sept. 10.
Photo courtesy of Google Maps.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
City of Austin Board of Adjustment: The city's Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial body that decides on variances, special exceptions and can issue interpretations of code.