Businesses responding to sign ordinance headaches
The Galion Planning and Zoning Committee held a special meeting on July 6 in Council Chambers to discuss the city’s sign ordinance. It was part of an ongoing discussion about changing some aspects of the ordinance in order to make it more business friendly. Dr. Thomas Fellner serves as the chairman for the committee and called the meeting because at the last City Council meeting, a representative from Taco Bell requested that Council work quickly to change the ordinance so that a new Taco Bell restaurant can be built at the Galion location.
Along with Fellner, committee members Ken Bodkins and Gail Baldinger were present on Friday to continue the discussion. Fellner asked Joe Klein-knecht to attend as well to offer his input. Kleinknecht is the president and CEO of the Galion Chamber of Commerce and has been working with a committee of local business owners to discuss the sign ordinance and offer their recommendations to the Planning and Zoning Commission. He said, “The current ordinance did not seem all that business friendly.” Overall, he believes it should be cut down in order to be made simpler and easier to navigate.
The new ordinance was enacted in January of 2010 and has since been creating some confusion and difficulty between businesses and City Zoning Inspector Matt Ross, ironic considering that it was intended to do just the opposite.
Fellner explained that the committee was working to fix the ordinance. “We’re not bending to the will of any individual business. Our intention is to set a reasonable policy for all businesses,” Fellner said.
Fellner also requested George Kentris, the Taco Bell representative from Findlay that approached Council, to attend the meeting that morning to explain in more detail what difficulties his company was running up against.
Kentris obliged, stating that he has spent 30 years in the Taco Bell business and has also been a practicing attorney for 35 years. He owns 37 Taco Bell restaurants throughout northwest Ohio and the Columbus area. In his experience, this was the first time he ever had to approach a zoning review board to build a new restaurant.
The company applied for a building permit last December to construct a new restaurant at the site of the current Galion Taco Bell. In the original design, the minimum requirements were not met for parking spaces and amount of cars that can be “stacked” in the drive-thru lane. Kentris said that the company was then denied a variance by the city’s zoning board, which he described as “very unreceptive.”
His team spoke with Ross and then went back to the drawing board to design a different restaurant that would be 300–400 square feet smaller in order to meet the parking space and drive-thru stack requirements. It discussed this new plan with Ross, who said that although all of the zoning requirements were acceptable, the sign package would not pass.
It was at that point that Kentris said he approached City Council to work on the sign ordinance because that was the only thing preventing the project from starting. He said that he would like to start the rebuild in mid-September to have it completed by year’s end. “The improvement to the property would be significant,” he added.
Bodkins asked, “What is the total square footage of the signage currently on the Taco Bell building and what’s the difference in that amount to the new design?” Kentris explained that the total signage package would be 225 square feet total. The menu board is about 4 square feet bigger and the building signage is 50 square feet more than that of the existing building. Once completed, the restaurant will look the same as the Bucyrus store except five feet narrower.
Fellner then asked Ross what the signage allow-ances for other fast food restaurants in Galion were. “Most general commercial businesses max out at 100 square feet,” Ross said. However, most of the existing restaurants are not in compliance with the new ordinance because they were built before it went into effect.
Bodkins did not think Taco Bell should be held back any further if they meet all other requirements. He said it should be able to move forward with construction while the sign ordinance gets straightened out.
Ross suggested striking the final sentence from the drive-thru section of the ordinance. In Chapter 1181, under section 08-J-12, in note 3 of the chart: “In evaluating such site plan, the Planning and Zoning Commission shall utilize the standards of this Chapter. ” (See box for the complete language in that section.)
The committee decided that it will bring a motion to the Council to strike the sentence under his recommendation. The issue will be discussed at the next City Council meeting (July 10).
From Chapter 1181 of the Sign Ordinance:
In all districts where so permitted, uses having drive-through facilities shall submit a specific site plan for signage, showing the type, size and location of all permanent signs, including directional signs and menu boards. Such site plan shall be subject to review by the Planning and Zoning Commission and shall be specifically approved prior to issuance of a zoning certificate. In evaluating such site plan, the Planning and Zoning Commission shall utilize the standards of this Chapter.