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P&Z Reviews Church Signage Proposals



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Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) members are reviewing a set of proposed sign regulations that would apply to churches, as well as a signage installation plan from the local church which submitted those proposed sign rules.

P&Z members took no action on the dual applications from Grace Family Church, which recently constructed a new church at 13 Covered Bridge Road in Hawleyville, near eastbound Interstate 84’s Exit 9 off-ramp.

The church’s application for new signage rules pertains to signs marking civic, charitable, religious, patriotic, fraternal, or similar organizations. Through a second application, the church is seeking to modify an existing special zoning permit to install certain signs noting the church’s presence.

The P&Z opened a public hearing on the two applications at a November 21 session. Attorney Thomas Rickart represented the church.

P&Z members discussed in detail the church’s proposal to install a large sign on the back of the church that would face I-84, stating that the building holds “Grace Family Church.”

P&Z Chairman Don Mitchell expressed concerns about a Christian cross that is already installed on the building’s roof. Such a cross is considered to be a sign under the zoning regulations and is larger than allowed, he said. Also, the cross is on the building’s roof, which is not allowed, he said.

Mr Mitchell also noted that the area lying between the church and I-84 no longer contains trees as it had before the church was built. Mr Mitchell said that the P&Z has told Starbucks of 75 Church Hill Road, which stands near Exit 10 of I-84, that it cannot use a large wall near it that faces I-84 for advertising signs. A large sign on a building facing such a highway amounts to a billboard, said P&Z member Roy Meadows.

Mr Rickart said the sign that the church proposes for the church wall that faces the highway would be built into the side of the building and would be tastefully done.

P&Z member Ben Toby said he was disappointed when the trees along the I-84 corridor were cleared in connection with church construction, adding that installing a sign on the back wall of the church would discourage the reforestation of that area.

Mr Mitchell acknowledged that the church needs signage, but added that its proposed sign regulations need to be reworked, in questioning the placement of a church sign which faces I-84.

If the P&Z were to approve the church’s proposed signage rules, as currently written, it would indicate that placing such signs along I-84 is in keeping with Newtown’s community character, but that is not the case, he said.

P&Z members agreed to seek a legal opinion on whether the cross positioned on the roof of the church constitutes a sign, a religious symbol, or a work of art. The P&Z public hearing on the church signs is slated to resume at the P&Z’s December 5 meeting.

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