A narrow vote by Grove City Council Jan. 18 will allow the South-Western Career Academy to display messages on an electronic sign.

A narrow vote by Grove City Council Jan. 18 will allow the South-Western Career Academy to display messages on an electronic sign.

The new sign would be one of only two in the city. A similar sign across the street at Central Crossing High School was grandfathered in when the property was annexed into the city a few years ago.

Electronic signs are not permitted under Grove City's code, but the board of zoning appeals granted an exception Nov. 22 to allow the sign's installation. The BZA stipulated that the scrolling function be disabled and the sign be turned off during certain hours.

Four of Grove City's five council members asked to appeal the decision, clerk of council Tami Kelly said.

South-Western City Schools, however, did not receive notice of that appeal until Dec. 27, the day before the sign, which cost $10,000, was to be installed. The faxed notice was discovered Dec. 28 during its installation, district property services coordinator Mark Waller said.

"The old sign with fixed letters was removed on (Dec. 27). "After the close of business on the 27th, we received a notice that an appeal had been filed and on the morning of the 28th, the contractor was on site installing the sign," Waller said. "Pending this action, I left the sign in place with the instruction not to energize it."

Chief building official Mike Boso said the city staff recommended approval of the variance because it's a community building.

"It's owned by the public and events go on there all the time," he said. "That's why, in researching this, we felt like we would recommend approval."

Council president Ted Berry said he saw a problem with the city's code rather than with the exemption.

"The problem is when you make exception after exception, there's no continuity in what you've got," Berry said. "If we could somehow revisit the code to allow for certain types of signage in certain situations ... that would be better."

Council member Steve Bennett opposed the exception, saying he felt it unfair to have different public and private sign codes.

"I don't think anyone anywhere (opposes) promoting the schools," Bennett said. "Should we set a precedent that it's OK for the government to do this but not you, the people? That's the danger. That once the gates blow open, they can't be closed."

Business requests for similar electronic signs have been denied in the past, council member Maria Klemack-McGraw pointed out.

"I still believe that this requested variance ... (could) undermine a provision in our code and could affect the safety of pedestrians and confer a special privilege on the applicant that was previously denied to others," she said.

The original decision was upheld with a 3-2 council vote, with Klemack-McGraw and Bennett voting to overturn the BZA decision.