First Community Church wants to meet with residents to look for a way to turn Marble Cliff Village Council's stop sign into a green light for the church's plan to install a new illuminated sign at its south campus.

The church is seeking a variance that would allow it to install the sign at the south end of its campus, 1320 Cambridge Blvd. in Marble Cliff.

A variance is needed because village code does not permit signs, except for political and for-sale or -lease signs, in a residential district unless council gives its approval.

First Community Church's south campus is in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

The variance request was on council's Aug. 19 agenda.

The church's current sign is on the northwest side of the campus, facing Cambridge Boulevard. Leaders want to install a second sign on the south side of the lot facing First Avenue because that portion of the church building now is considered the main entrance, said Paul Anderson, First Community's director of development.

Last year, the church completed a $2 million capital project to construct a welcome center at the south end, add an accessible entrance and establish it as the main entry point during the week, Anderson said.

On Sunday mornings, many church members enter for services via the sanctuary on the north end of the building, Anderson said.

The new sign would list service times and offer information about upcoming events and programs, he said.

The proposed 8 1/2-square-foot sign would be internally lighted and would sit on a 2-foot stone base for an overall height of about 5 feet.

The church also sought a variance to the section of village code that prohibits multiple signs.

The proposed sign is "a smaller version of the sign we did for the church at its north campus on Dublin Road," said Steve Moore, owner of Moore Signs.

The company worked with the church to develop the design for both signs, he said.

The illumination would help make the sign more visible to people coming from outside Marble Cliff to attend evening events and programs at the south campus and make the south entrance more identifiable, especially in the winter when it gets darker earlier, Moore said.

However, it was clear the variance request as submitted would not pass muster with council, Mayor Kent Studebaker said.

"We don't permit signs in our residential district," he said. "We don't allow multiple signs on a property," and First Community "was pushing the envelope" with its request for a second sign.

An internally illuminated sign "is not something we even embrace in our business district," Studebaker said. "Those three issues need to be addressed to justify why this sign and why this kind of sign."

Moore said the church might be willing to consider taking down the existing sign so only one sign would remain on the property and to eliminate the internal illumination of the new sign in an effort to come up with a proposal that would gain approval of the village and residents.

"That certainly would get (them) closer, but there's still a prohibition against signs in the residential district," Studebaker said.

Councilwoman Joanne Taylor said all the feedback she's heard from residents who live near the church indicates none of them are in favor of the sign as it was proposed.

Jon Browning lives on Arlington Avenue, about 150 yards away from the church.

Most of his neighbors are opposed to the proposed sign, he said.

The question is how the sign would impact the character of the existing residential neighborhood, Browning said.

"By definition, that is what our zoning code is about: to protect the residential neighborhood," he said.

"That's the thing that the Village Council is supposed to consider."

The church should have done more to consult with its neighbors before bringing its variance request to council, said Pam Browning, Jon's wife.

"In our neighborhood, if you want to make a radical change, or even a modest change to your property, you go to your neighbors" first to let them know about your plans and get their feedback, she said.

First Community Church typically has been a good neighbor, Pam Browning said, but didn't do its due diligence in this case.

Moore said he and church representatives will rethink their proposal and meet with residents before bringing a revised application to council.

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