CHURCH SIGN WARS

Church signs are still important although their usefulness is quickly fading in the shadow of social media and GPS.  Often a motorist that passes a church sign often enough will develop a relationship with the church just by reading the sign often enough.  Whether that relationship translates into visitation or attendance is someone else’s study to do.  Church signs sometimes annoy the neighbors and sometimes are overly regulated.

A Kansas City sign ordinance prohibited digital signs on church property in residential zones.  Needless to say, the church in this story had a legacy “monumental” sign, typically with changeable letters that could become airborne in the right weather, and decided to upgrade it to celebrate entry into the 21st Century by adding a digital display to the monument sign at a cost of $11,000.  The church did not obtain a permit from the city and apparently did not know one might be required.  An anonymous neighbor complained about a year after the digital display was installed on the existing sign causing the Kansas City authorities to awaken to enforce the city code.  The church responded and filed an application for a variance.  The variance was denied, the digital display was ordered removed, but the church appealed to the court system.  The court ordered the variance be entered by the City.  The City appealed to the appellate court.  See, Antioch Community Church v Board of Zoning Adjustment, Slip Op. 2016.

The appellate court affirmed the trial court and the variance was issued.  The court noted the location of the church as near commercial zones on a busy street, noted that the display was put on an existing sign that no one argued was out of compliance, and that the digital display was superior to alternatives.  The court also noted that the digital display on the monument sign did not imperil the character of the neighborhood.

There are two morals to this saga:  make sure new construction has a permit, a qualified contractor will bid the job including the price, and in the application and at every other stage document how the sign will fit into the existing environment.  Also, while trying to work amicably with everyone, if push comes to shove involve legal counsel.  On an upgrade of an existing sign, be sure to preserve the former appearance of the old sign by use of the modern invention of photography.

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