Tonganoxie Board of Zoning Appeals find code enforcer right in letter to church
The Tonganoxie Board of Zoning Appeals found Thursday that the city code enforcement officer was right when he sent a letter in August informing the West Haven Baptist Church its new electronic sign was out of compliance with a special use permit allowing its installation.
The very narrow ruling left leadership of the church, who had already sought resolution on the issue from the Tonganoxie City Council and Planning Commission, baffled about just what the church was permitted to do with the sign.
At the start of its consideration, Zoning Board Chairman Joel Skelley explained the board only would consider whether Tonganoxie codes enforcement office Mark Lee made the correct interpretation of a section of a zoning ordinance pertaining to electronic message boards and animated signs in an Aug. 16 letter sent to West Haven Baptist Church. The letter stated the sign was out of compliance with the stipulations of a special use permit allowing the sign, which prohibited any “animation, or ... messages that are animated, moving, flashing, blinking, reflecting, revolving and/or rotating.”
The board, which shares the same membership with the planning commission, would not be making a decision on the merits of the sign ordinance, Skelley said.
The zoning board, too, only considered the sign’s use before the church received the Aug. 16 letter, a period Mike Bronson, West Haven pastor, said the church went a little wild with its “new toy.”
Given the scope of consideration, it wasn’t surprising the board voted, 3-1, that Lee’s interpretation was correct. Skelley, Robert Bieniecki and Catherine Patrick voted in the majority, with John Morgan, who earlier said he was a member of West Haven Baptist Church, disagreeing.
The decision came after Bronson assured the board it was not the church’s intent to violate city code or disrupt its neighbors. It was the congregation’s belief the new sign enhanced the neighborhood and the city, he said.
Gary Colby, who lives across the street from the church, said the flashing lights of police cars stopping motorists on U.S. Highway 24-40 were more distracting. The sign was never a distraction to him or his family, and he found its messages positive, he said.
But another neighbor, Clara Page, said the flashing sign kept her boys awake at night and otherwise disrupted her family. Her mother, Pam Smith, a nurse practitioner, said flashing lights could trigger seizures and migraines and were a danger to traffic on the highway.
City planner Kevin Kokes bolstered the city’s position with reference to discussion with USD 464 about a similar sign proposed for Tonganoxie Middle School.
The Tonganoxie Planning Commission approved that sign, which was never installed, with the same language used in West Haven’s approval, Kokes said. However, there was discussion and mutual agreement the sign’s electronic message only would be changed once daily.
In retrospect, it was unfortunate that discussion wasn’t referenced in the planning commission’s approval, Kokes said. Giving him more reason to regret the omission was West Haven Associate Past Mark Scribner’s earlier statement that although that discussion was used as justification for the city’s position, it was never made available to the church.
Bronson repeated the church’s intent to comply with zoning regulations but said as he left the meeting it was still vague just what usage the church could make of the sign. He earlier told the board the church would like to make use of the sign’s potential by changing its message more than once a day.
One solution to that would be for the planning commission to amend its sign ordinance in light of technological changes that have made some of its language obsolete, Kokes said.
That solution was also mentioned during the board’s discussion, but there was no motion from members to request such an action from the planning board.
The planning commission would now have to approve a request from one of its members to amend the sign ordinance, Skelley said. The review process would require public hearings and could take up to six months before the Tonganoxie City Council approved a planning commission recommendation.