Despite two consecutive unanimous recommendations for disapproval from the Northland Community Council development committee, members of the city's Graphics Commission last week gave their blessing to an electronic sign at the site of the former Max and Erma's headquarters on Evanswood Drive.
The ruling paves the way for Atlas Butler Heating and Cooling to relocate the company's headquarters to the building that once offered motorists along Interstate 71 a view of a gigantic hamburger.
Eventually, they will be seeing an electronic sign, 339 square feet in size and 33 feet from the freeway, offering information on "business and community activity."
One member of the development committee, William Logan, who is also president of the nearby Karmel Woodward Park Civic Association, believes that creates a distinctly dangerous situation. He pulled no punches in a report to Graphics Commission members.
"If this commission finds favor to approve this application as proposed, without further revision, we would understand that this commission favors one multimillion-dollar private business and one multimillion-dollar media company over all other concerns, by placing 115,000 daily public drivers at risk, ignoring the unanimous community objections of 128,000 Northland residents represented by the development committee and ignoring the staff's strong objections on behalf of the city as stated," Logan wrote, in his role as association president. "That is what we will understand."
Some compromises were reached at the Graphics Commission session last week, according to committee chairman Dave Paul and attorney Jeffrey L. Brown, who represented Orange Barrel Media at the development panel's January and February meetings.
At the February session, Brown disclosed that he did the legal work on behalf of Max and Erma's that obtained permission for the large hamburger on the outside wall of the chain's former headquarters.
The major compromise, Paul said, was that the media firm agreed to reduce the size of the LED sign from the requested 425 square feet to 339 square feet, just a one square foot larger than would have been allowed for a non-electronic graphic.
"I think we accomplished all we could have accomplished in the sense that we reduced the size of the graphic," Paul said.
"I think Orange Barrel worked very hard with the city and with the community to work out the issues," Brown said. "What got approved is better than what we started out with. It's a kind of win-win.
"We did everything that we could in terms of what Northland asked us to do and reached agreement on many issues, and continued to make the screen smaller and smaller as we went through the process."
Brown, of Smith and Hale LLC, did not represent Atlas Butler and could not say if a Graphics Commission rejection of the sign request would have squelched the deal, but he pointed out it might have been a vital part of the company's decision. Signage and the recognition it brings for property fronting a freeway "is a key ingredient," Brown said.
"It's built into the purchase price when buying the property," he added.
One disappointment for the development committee, Paul said, was the lack of compromise on allowing the electronic sign on the side of the building to be far closer to the roadway than is supposedly allowed. The code would have required it to be set back 660 feet, not the 33 feet that was granted, he said.
"There was some discussion of it," he went on. "We didn't think it would have been much of a hardship to move the sign 50 feet to the west."
Paul predicted the commission's decision will change the "numerical standard for how close signs can be to the freeway."