Wednesday, September 7, 2011

SOS: Save our Sign

Apparently the Beer Depot has run afoul of the city's sign ordinance and historic preservation laws. They are trying to restore or replace their classic neon sign after it was blown over during a wind storm in April of this year. From their Save our Sign blog:
...the reason the sign couldn’t go back up was that the sign didn’t meet the “height, size and setback requirements of Chapter 61, the City’s sign ordinance," the ordinance also specifies that “no nonconforming sign shall be repaired or erected after being damaged if the repair or erection of the sign would cost more than 50 percent of the cost of an identical new sign.” This meant that if the cost of restoring the sign were less than half the cost of an all-new replacement, we could probably get approval. The problem? We probably could have fudged numbers, but lying is wrong, and any honest sign company will tell you that there was no way those numbers would work in our favor. So we got a “nay” from the city. On their behalf, they did this without making us jump through all the clerical hoops involved.

Personally, I would like to see the sign back up. What do you think gentle readers? Is this the end of the age of neon signs in Ann Arbor, or is there room in our skyline to preserve classic signs like the Beer Depot's?

Photo via: mediageek

Hat tip: Jessica French


  1. There damn well should be room to preserve these classics of a more awesome time!

  2. I don't see why we should only have historic preservation for items from a certain period. That sign is a great landmark, and I would love to see it back up.

  3. As I commented over on the beer depot's site, I'm not sure why you're bringing the historic preservation ordinance into it -- it sounds like a simple case of existing non-conformity. Every city's ordinance has these, which in plain language say, "it was legal when you built it, we changed the rules at some point, but it's grandfathered-in until it (literally) falls over."

    Since it's a zoning related issue, it means it has to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance, and the ZBA is very specifically a quasi-judicial entity that's not allowed to decide cases based on popularity. (Stupid progressive era reforms, and their due process and equal standing in front of the law!)

    The conflict between the interests of historic preservation ("You can't take that down!") and zoning's desire to phase out non-conforming uses ("we let you keep it 30 years past when it was legal, but now that it's down, it's down.") is a known one, especially when it comes to such "landmark" signs. (I think I recall Big Ten Party Store encountering a similar problem years back when they wanted to change their sign to reflect the name change to "Morgan & York.")

    If you want to take a political/popular action approach to this situation, I'd encourage you to focus on changing the law in question. The City of Ypsilanti included a clause in their recent sign ordinance update that allowed for "signs of local significance" to be individually identified and restored as special cases despite non-conformity. If Ann Arbor adopted a similar ordinance -- and backdated eligibility to before Beer Depot's sign toppled -- it would provide a less strictly constrained path to restoration than the ZBA's locked-down process.

  4. Hi Ben - thanks for the linkage to the Beer Depot's "SOS Blog", and your interest in preserving the sign. A hat or two was already tipped your way over there. We look forward to more public feedback before pursuing the appeal. We're not surprised by the enthusiasm about the sign, but we ARE surprised that no-one has made a Comic Sans joke or insult yet ;-)

  5. @Beer Depot I had to bite my tongue about the comic sans

    @Murph as always, thanks for your knowledge of local laws and politics.

  6. This is question that it should be restored!

  7. I think this is why Arby's on Washtenaw did a good deal of remodeling to everything but their sign (I'm referring to the one in Ann Arbor and not the one in the DMZ).

  8. This is just as pathetic as the City Council dropping the ball twice by rejecting the formation of a historic district in the Germantown Neighborhood on South Fifth Ave (right around the corner) which ultimately resulted in the demolition of seven historic structures - one of which was one of the oldest (and home to two mayors and the author of The History of Washtenaw County) structures in Ann Arbor. What the heck is wrong with the City of Ann Arbor lately? Have they lost their sense of heritage? Are they trying to totally Yuppie-fy the place and erase all the hip and historic stuff that made AA so quaint and charming in the first place? Also, why the heck would the business owner even bother to ask permission to put your historic sign back up? Why would they have even thought to? Its called fix the sign...find someone with a big enough heart to do it cheap....and put it back up...give the City a huge middle finger for having their heads shoved too far up their (INSERT EXPLETIVE) to know how bad they've been screwing up lately. They should all be dismissed. Certainly NONE of them should be re-elected.

  9. I like your post and it is so good and I am definetly going to save it. One thing to say the In depth analysis this blog has is trully remarkable.