Placement of biz sign stirs dispute

LISBON – The JWB Supply Co. will get to keep its sign after receiving permission in the form of a variance at this week’s village Board of Zoning Appeals meeting.

The dispute began several months ago when John W. Bettis was making some improvements to the exterior of his power tool business on North Market Street. These improvement required removal of the lighted business sign that lay flat against the front of the building.

Bettis said at some point he met with Mayor Dan Bing to discuss whether it was possible to have the sign stick out from the building to increase visibility among passing motorists. He said Bing checked and assured him it was allowed, so the sign was re-hung as a perpendicular sign.

After erecting the sign, Bettis was told he needed a specific permit for that purpose but his application was denied by the zoning inspector since village code prohibits perpendicular signs in the downtown business district. Bettis filed an appeal seeking a variance from the rule, which resulted in this week’s board hearing.

“I was told I could hang this out by the mayor … and he assured me there’d be no problem,” Bettis told the board.

“Just to set the record straight, Dan Bing is the mayor but he has no authority over the zoning board,” said board President Dick Henthorne.

Bettis said he would have put his business sign back the way it was before if he had known, but Bing assured him in front of two other people a perpendicular sign was allowed under village code.

“I didn’t want to create any problem,” he said.

Councilwoman Cheryl Mills, who served on the board before, said they are obligated to follow the zoning code unless Bettis can meet one of the five exceptions that would allow him to be granted a variance. She also said Bing contributed to the problem by passing out incorrect information.

“I think we need to sit down with the mayor and go over zoning with him,” Mills said.

Bing was contacted after the meeting and he said Bettis misunderstood what he told him. “I told him how I have no power or authority and that he needed to go through the zoning board,” he said .

This was disputed by Gary Perchuchetti, who is Bettis’ father-in-law and also works part-time at the business. Perchuchetti said he and another person were in the store when they heard Bing say it was OK to go with a perpendicular sign.

Bing said the other witnesses joined in his conversation with Bettis midway, and the only thing he told them is no permission was needed to put the sign up the way it was before.

“I’m just glad he’s got his sign. We need to support the businesses in the village,” Bing said.

Bettis’ wife, Gina, said the perpendicular sign has resulted in additional business from passing motorists, especially workers in the oil and gas field, one of whom recently purchased $600 worth of tools after discovering the store because of the sign’s new prominence.

Local preservationist Stevie Halverstadt said perpendicular signs detract from the appearance of historic downtowns such as Lisbon, and she implored the board follow the rules. She also pointed out the Lisbon Area Chamber of Commerce had gone on record urging the board to deny the variance.

The JWB parking lot is located next door to the chamber building. “It’s a shame I let the chamber use my parking lot,” Bettis said, adding he may have to reconsider that decision.

Jim Sanor, who owns the Sandy & Beaver Insurance building located just down the street from JWB Supply, said it was “ridiculous” there would be any opposition to granting a variance, especially given the circumstances.

“When you are told something by the mayor of a city and he comes back and confirms it, what are you supposed to do,” he said, adding the board should grant the variance rather than “badger a local business owner who has been in business for 27 years. This is ridiculous.”

The board went into executive session for about 20 minutes, which was likely in violation of Ohio’s open meeting law since they gave no reason, nor does it appear the closed-door meeting met any of the exceptions allowed under the law.

When the board emerged they voted 3-0 to grant the variance, with Henthorne, Mike Ours and Stosh Marshalek in favor. Abstaining from the vote was Alisa Gostey, who said she was related to one of the parties. Absent was board member Ryan Hillman.

Henthorne said the board believes Bettis met two of the five exceptions that would allow them to grant a variance: the perpendicular sign would not alter the character of the neighborhood, and it represents the minimum variance needed to grant the relief sought.

The quick resolution of the dispute comes a little over a week after the village reached a compromise with the owners of the Elkton Auto Corral over restoring sewer service to the used-car dealership after it was severed during a village storm sewer installation project in 2012.

The JWB Supply dispute was similar to Brian’s Barbershop controversy of 2009, which was over the barbershop’s internally lighted business sign that violated the zoning code. The barbershop was allowed to keep the light, but the controversy resulted in then-Mayor Mike Lewis ordering a review and update of the zoning code.