Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Churches, schools may be allowed to light up their signs
Proposal would ease residential zoning restrictions on electronic signs; some people are upset By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • March 18, 2008 A proposal to let Nashville churches and schools put up electronic signs in residential areas is upsetting some residents, who fear the steady glare of bright lights piercing their leafy streets. A Metro Council bill would allow "community education facilities, cultural centers, recreation centers and religious institutions" in residential areas to post light-emitting diode, or LED, signs on main thoroughfares and the "collector" streets that feed vehicles into those main roads. The council has indefinitely deferred its final vote on the matter, but the issue continues to create a buzz. LED signs are often seen at chain drugstores, banks and auto dealerships. They use amber or red lights to display messages, which can rotate every few seconds. Keith Newcomb, a financial planner who lives in the Hillwood area of West Nashville, said the signs would be bad for neighborhoods. "There is no place for commercial-style LED signage deep in the heart of a residential neighborhood, on any kind of street," Newcomb said. "It's a quality-of-life issue." But Councilman Charlie Tygard, who introduced the proposal, said the signs would not be intrusive. They wouldn't be allowed to use flashing lights, scrolling messages or animation. Tygard said he was inspired by the plight of Harpeth Heights Baptist Church on Highway 100. The church wants to advertise its divorce classes, Boy Scout troop meetings and other events along a Bellevue stretch dominated by large signs for grocery stores, a Walgreens and a YMCA. But Harpeth Heights' request for a zoning variance was denied by Metro's Board of Zoning Appeals because the church couldn't show a hardship necessitating the sign, the councilman said. Resident e-mails pour in The church lot is zoned residential, but "for all practical purposes, it's on a commercial piece of property," said Tygard, who represented Bellevue before he was elected countywide last year. Councilwoman Emily Evans, who represents Belle Meade and West Meade, said she's received more constituent e-mails about the proposal than she's received about almost any other issue this year. She said she wouldn't be surprised if the bill were amended before it comes back up for a vote. Streets that dump traffic onto a main road can be "bucolic" along other stretches, Evans said. She said residents who bought their houses for the peace and quiet of those areas don't want to see electronic signs amid the trees and lawns. "Those heavily trafficked streets can also be very residential," she said. The list of affected roads runs about 290 pages, council attorneys said in their bill analysis. Newcomb said about 7,600 streets are on the list. Tygard said he's working to find "common ground" with the bill's critics. Compromises could include a time of night when the LED signs would have to be shut off and a requirement that only amber lights be used, he said. Contact Michael Cass at 259-8838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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