Grosse Pointe Woods Council Denies Sign Variance for Blue Book
The Grosse Pointe Woods sign ordinance is at issue again. This time council discusses what's attractive, what's not and where the line is drawn to determine whether a sign is a sign or a sign is art.
Grosse Pointe Woods' sign ordinance, a source of controversy for weeks earlier this year related to neon signs, was the subject of debate Monday when this question arose: When is a sign just a sign and when is it art?
The ordinance puts limits on the size, placement and number of signs permitted on commercial buildings, among other requirements. Two of the businesses-- Telly's and Farm Bureau Insurance--got what they wanted.
The other, The Blue Book, a 63-year-old publisher of business directories and other publications, did not, causing the representative from the company to leave the meeting angrily, telling the council on her way out: "Lovely welcome to the community."
The Blue Book relocated its offices from Grosse Pointe Park to Grosse Pointe Woods recently at 19803 Mack Ave.
The requests for the variances to the ordinance centered around exceeding the number or the size of signs permitted. The ordinance aims to preserve the appearance of the Woods' business district, but it has come under heavy criticism in the last year as not being business friendly.
It was two signs outside Telly's Place, a restaurant and bar on Mack Avenue, that prompted the brief debate over whether the sign controls should be loosely interpreted at times when a sign adds character or interest or artistic value.
City inspectors had recommended the planning commission deny Telly's request to hang two signs on the side and front of the building. The planning commission, which hears variance requests before the council and then makes a recommendation to the council, disagreed with city officials' denial and approved the request.
Telly's owner, Evans Telegadas, told the council he wanted the signs to improve the look of the building by covering bad and worn brickwork around places where doors used to be. The signs: One has a picture of three glasses: champagne, martini and wine. The other show's the business name. They are black with wording and pictures that look etched into marble. They are fairly understated.
"I don't call them signs. I call them more artwork. They're not illumined. They're not lit up at all," Telegadas said. "The building is very old and the two doorways there that we bricked up and never matched well.
Councilman Kevin Ketels said he had seen the signs and agreed. He said this is a case of signs being more artwork than signage. He recommended the council approve the signs as long as three conditions be met: the wall color on the building remain the same, the sign not be illuminated and the graphics remain the same. The condition were recommended by the planning commission.
"I look at the signs and I actually think they're attractive. I remember when they went up…..I think they add to the decor and I think they look nice."
While Telly's was the subject of the discussion over whether some signs should be OK'd for being more decoration or art, Farm Bureau Insurance agent Colleen Dyer's request to put a sign on the side of her building on Mack Avenue passed with very little discussion.
Blue Book and Towar Productions, however, generated much concern over detracting from a building's appearance by overdoing signs. The company requested approval to place four signs in a stacked style on the front of its building on Mack above its door and windows. The colonial style building houses two businesses and has very little signage.
Despite explanations from company reps and some support on the council, the majority of members felt the signs should not be approved, partly because of they detract from the "Colonial style we want to preserve in our business district," Councilwoman Vicki Granger said.
The conflicting decision of what makes a sign acceptable, aesthetic or the opposite may open the sign ordinance up to interpretation. Granger asked Planning Commissioner Michael Fuller whether the ordinance is going to be redefined.
"A number of us interpreted this ordinance very narrowly," she said.
City Attorney Don Berschback made it clear that "these are signs," not artwork. Mayor Robert Novitke added, "even though we consider it artwork or whatever, if it's conveying a message, it's a sign…"
The planning commission was tasked with reevaluating the sign ordinance earlier this year after business owners with neon signs fought to keep them, some of which are older than the city itself.
The neon sign issue blew up after a similar meeting before the city council, when they were asked to consider a zoning variance for those with existing signs as the Zoning Board of Appeals but all were denied. Arguments related to some of the neon signs--McCubbins Barbershop and Dr. Secord's Dental office--related to the value of character of the signs.
At that time, many business owners said the ordinance is outdated because it aims to preserve the Woods as it was decades ago not as it is today.