Town turns down billboards again

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The vote was closer, but the answer was still no to billboards from the town Board of Adjustments Tuesday.

Roy Ten Pas was back with a request for a variance on the town’s setback and separation requirements for two billboards on the east side of State 57 between County C and State 23.

The proposed 14-foot by 48-foot single pole signs would be closer to each other than the 1,000 feet required by the town’s code.

“I feel the town is over-restrictive,” Ten Pas stated, noting that state code only requires a minimum of 300 feet between billboards – although it does allow municipalities to adopt stricter requirements. “In fact, it acts like a cap on business.”

The board had cited safety concerns about the signs in rejecting the variance in October, noting that within a stretch of less than a mile along State 57 between County C and State 23 there are already three traffic lights, plus another light on State 57 a mile south of County C at County PP and several existing billboards on State 57 between County PP and County C.

Ten Pas presented the board with several studies showing that billboards are not a driving hazard or a contributing factor to highway accidents.

He also cited studies on the positive economic impact of billboard signs on local economies.

“If you go on a trip, you don’t look for a John Deere sign if you’re hungry, you look for a sign for an eating place, and that’s all,” Ten Pas said. He added that many local drivers who use roads regularly tend to ignore billboards after seeing them two or three times, also minimizing their potential safety impact.

Ten Pas said he was purchasing the 14 to 15-acre parcel the signs would be located on from Plymouth developer Mark Kleinhans.

He noted that much of the land is wetland area and limited for development. The portion along State 57 could be divided into two or three parcels with two or three businesses located on them.

“If two or three businesses come in there, you would have two or three signs or more,” Ten Pas pointed out. “How much distance do you put between car dealerships or restaurants? You don’t put any restrictions on them.”

Kleinhans called the proposed signs a tool for local economic development and building local business. “Success doesn’t come from driving up an empty road,” he commented.

“Here is a person from outside our town bringing money in for tax purposes,” town resident Hans Rose said during the public hearing before the Board of Adjustments. “We need any kind of business enhancement we can get.”

Rose also noted that the speed limit on the section of State 57 in question is 45 mph, further minimizing any potential safety impact.

Plymouth Mayor Donald Pohlman repeated a caution that, if the property is ever annexed to the city, the billboards would first have to be removed, as city ordinances forbids any billboards not erected before 1994.

“There will be no grandfathering. They will come down on annexation,” Pohlman said of the billboards.

The vote to deny the variance, which had been unanimous in October, was 3-2 this time, with Board of Adjustments members Othmar Jetzer and Warren Luedke voting against denial.

During the regular Town Board meeting that followed, Town Chairman Jim Lubach announced that he was appointing Harry Raeder as an alternate to the Board of Adjustments. Raeder is already the alternate to the Zoning Commission.

Town Clerk Laura Raeder announced that Bank First National will be accepting property tax payments from town residents.

“This gives residents another option to pay,” their tax bills, Raeder said. She explained that several other villages and townships in the county have been utilizing a similar system with other local banks, “and it seems to be running smoothly.”

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