Rocky Fork Enterprise

Dolphin Lounge wins appeal to keep sign

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

A rooftop sign that has identified Gahanna's Dolphin Lounge for 43 years will remain.

Gahanna's Board of Zoning and Building Appeals on Nov. 7 granted an appeal of an administrative order from the planning and zoning administrator regarding removal of a nonconforming sign at 345 Agler Road.

Part of the sign had been damaged in a windstorm last fall, so business owner Lori Ebright removed the face of it for repair and then reinstalled it.

According to the city's nonconforming-sign code, she said, she thought she could remove the sign and repair it because it was less than 50 percent damaged. To document the sign being less than half damaged, she provided an estimate of $150 to repair the $3,000 sign.

Planning and zoning administrator Bonnie Gard said the sign was up with a nonconforming status, and when it was removed, it became altered and shouldn't have been put back up.

Appeals board chairman A. Benjamin Winkler said hard evidence was presented that the sign wasn't more than half damaged.

"The damage was $150, not 50 percent of replacement value," he said. "It didn't lose its nonconforming designation."

Winkler, Hakim Ben Adjoua, Cid Canter and Donald Jensen voted in favor of the appeal.

Ebright said Dolphin Lounge has been an icon in Gahanna. For 30 years, she said, it has had the longest-running blues jams in Ohio.

She presented the appeals board with a 300-signature petition in support of keeping the landmark sign.

Ebright said she needs the sign on the front of the business for patrons to find the Dolphin Lounge.

The lounge is in Gahanna City Council member Stephen Renner's Ward 1.

"I think we certainly want to reward small businesses for taking care of their signs, especially in weather-related incidents like this," he said. "The damage to the sign was quite minimal.

"She took it upon herself as to what to do. She got advice and went down a path and took actions she thought were prudent."

Renner said council soon would recommend language code changes to include weather-related events as a result of this incident.

Resident Thomas Cimicato said the sign is a staple in the community.

"If it has been there that long and then eventually fell after 40 years, I imagine it will be sustained another 40 years," he said. "If it lasted that long, it will last that long again."

James Newell said he has been a resident of Jefferson Township and the surrounding area for 47 years.

"I've been a participant in activities at the Dolphin Lounge for about 25 years," he said. "I go in there and listen to blues. That sign has always been up there. It doesn't look any different than when I went in 25 years ago. The structure looks the same. I can't see the big deal being made over this sign."

Gard said her main concern with the sign's reinstallation is public safety. She said no building permit was obtained and no inspection was completed.

"The sign suffered major damage from a severe storm," Gard said. "Without the proper construction documentation being submitted to the building division, it is unknown whether or not the sign could withstand another such storm without it becoming a potential danger to the public."

Ebright's attorney, Edward Brueggeman, said he formerly served on a board of zoning appeals in Loveland.

"We wanted to encourage maintenance, repair and business cooperation," he said. "That's what we're trying to do in this case. We simply ask that this keep its nonconforming use status."

Gard said it's her duty as the zoning administrator to enforce provisions of city zoning ordinances that are established to promote and protect the public health, safety and general welfare of the people.

Brueggeman asked Gard how close she has been to the sign in question.

She said she viewed it from across the street.

"The sign is made of three pieces of plywood and the support structures are cast iron L brackets," Brueggeman said. "All that happened is one corner of three pieces of the plywood came loose. The whole thing was taken down to inspect. Treated boards went behind to hold the sign. What's up there is slightly stronger than before because of the use of treated lumber."

Winkler said the sign is legal nonconforming. He said it's his opinion the city acted in good faith, but he asked the city to refund Ebright's filing fees in the matter. The board agreed.

Gard said the sign still would require a building permit.

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