Sign to stay put despite protests

A sign in The District will be allowed to stay up despite its large size.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:50 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

COLUMBIA- Morgan Fisher, 22, can leave work tonight feeling just as safe as she did yesterday. The DWI Traffic Defense Center sign at 217 N. Ninth St., which provides increased light in the area where she works, will stay put, despite recent calls for removal.

The Columbia Board of Adjustment unanimously granted Robert Murray permission last night to keep the 55-square-foot sign that hangs from the southern face of the Murray Law Firm office building. The board gave Murray an exception to Columbia’s current ordinance prohibiting signs larger than 32-square-feet in the Special Business District.

The ordinance was approved by the Columbia City Council March 5. It was drafted as a joint effort between the Special Business District, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council. Previously, signs of 64-square-feet were allowed.

The Bee Seen Sign Company applied for a sign permit on Murray’s behalf on April 10, and the permit was granted on April 23. The sign went up soon after, and the office opened the first weekend of May.

Murray said he acted in good faith when he put up the sign.

“I knew there had been discussions, and I wanted to be sure what I was doing was lawful,” he said. “If I had known, I could have pulled the permit before the deadline.”

The Special Business District originally brought the potential infraction to the council’s attention.

“We certainly called Protective Inspections to ask for details, and I think that’s how they found out it was in violation,” said Carrie Gartner, director of the Special Business District. “The concern was that if it became a free-for-all with signs, then the charm, beauty and historical nature of district would be destroyed. That’s what we make our money on — attractive buildings, shops, cafes; that’s how we prosper.”

The permit was issued through a miscommunication about the boundaries of the Special Business District, according to Chief Building Inspector Jim Paneck. “We admit there was an error made but were required to act on it as we did.”

Murray says he was unaware that his business lies within the Special Business District.

Before applying for a permit, Bee Seen Signs representative Gwen Phelps consulted Protective Inspections about the boundaries. A map on the office’s cubicle wall showed the Special Business District boundary ending at Ash Street.

“We discussed the measurement to be sure it was within the ordinance, and we believed it was,” she said.

Paneck said the map has been addressed.

The decision comes after almost two weeks of community discussion that began on an e-mail list of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association. Murray says he’s disappointed with the string of e-mails and suggested concerned citizens contact him directly.

“Not a single person came to talk to me — no phone calls, no visits,” he said. “One lady came by to see for herself and told me what a beautiful building it is.”

The building, formerly Jerry’s School of Hairstyling, was purchased by Murray from Boone County in 2005.

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