Lakeland-area business owners concerned about the impact of the upcoming U.S. Highway 51 reconstruction project may receive a break from the Oneida County Planning and Zoning Committee when it comes to the relocation of their signs.
The committee last Wednesday directed Planning and Zoning Director Karl Jennrich to research whether the county can exempt from current zoning laws all legal pre-existing signs that have to be moved as a result of the highway project.
The Lakeland-area project, scheduled to begin in 2013, calls for 5.8 miles of U.S. 51, between Jackson Heights Road and County Highway Y, to be reconstructed as a two-lane highway with passing lanes along the west side. Also, 3.2 miles of U.S. 51 between Highway Y and Oneida Street will be reconstructed as a four-lane divided highway.
The overhead structure that allows the Bearskin Recreation Trail to cross over U.S. 51 will be retooled to provide the needed vertical and horizontal clearances for the expanded highway, as will the Lake Katherine Bridge. Connections to U.S. 51 also are being modified or, in some cases, done away with.
The Mill Road intersection will be eliminated due to safety concerns and the Raven Lane connection will be relocated to a frontage road on the east side of U.S. 51 where it will intersect the highway directly across from Lake Yawkey Drive.
According to Jennrich, unless the county takes action, any sign that has to be relocated as a result of the project will have to meet all zoning ordinances before being put back in the ground.
“The ordinance is pretty crystal clear that ... legal pre-existing on-premise or off-premise signs, once they are picked up and moved, they need a permit to relocate it,” Jennrich said. “If (the signs) don’t meet (setback and zoning district) requirements, and the Department of Transportation is asking them to move, there’s nothing I can do.”
The committee was concerned about the difficulties such a rule would pose for business owners.
“That would make for a lot of nonconforming signs,” committee Chairman Scott Holewinski said.
Committee member Mike Timmons, who also is chairman of the Woodruff Town Board, said other counties in the state have amended ordinances to avoid such situations.
“There are laws that can be written ... that anything that is caused by governmental acquisitions cannot negatively affect personal property,” Timmons said.
Following a 2009 project involving County Highway J, some business signs were forced to be relocated, but the committee allowed them to be moved as they were.
“The committee at that time felt because it was a governmental entity — the Oneida County Highway Department in this case — that had picked up and moved the signs to complete the work, it was appropriate to allow those signs to remain,” Jennrich said.
A legal pre-existing sign met all county zoning requirements when it was constructed, but has since fallen out of compliance as zoning laws and ordinances have changed throughout the years.
“I, personally, have no problem allowing people to move their signs in this situation,” Holewinski said.
Said committee member Jack Sorensen, “If there’s something within our ordinance right now that (doesn’t allow such a thing), it certainly needs to be looked at.”
The committee directed Jennrich and his staff to go over the ordinance and return with a recommendation on the best way to proceed.
Marcus Nesemann may be reached at email@example.com