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Officials deny sign proposal, cite safety

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City officials have denied a request from SIHO for a digital sign in downtown Columbus, saying it could distract motorists and pedestrians passing by.

“Have you ever driven south on I-65 at night to Columbus and seen those two digital signs by the outlet mall? Did you take your eyes off the road to look at them?” commission member David Jones asked.

“People will take their eyes off the road, and that is an issue, especially at night.”

The company is disappointed in the commission’s decision and now could replace the existing sign cabinet with a First Financial Bank sign that is not digital and does not change, said Taylor Rowles, SIHO provider relations specialist.

SIHO had planned to use the sign to promote community events sponsored by nonprofits. The 6.4-foot-by-3.2-foot sign is in a cabinet at 435 Washington St.

Rowles said SIHO met with city planning director Jeff Bergman to address some of the concerns the commission had in July, when the sign was proposed.

Bergman said he was concerned that, if the proposal were approved, it might open a door to allow other businesses in downtown Columbus to put up the same type of sign.

SIHO tried to work with the city, including agreeing to promote only civic, educational and nonprofit community groups, Rowles said. The company also addressed security concerns, questions about how often the sign would change and brightness concerns, she said. But those efforts didn’t seem to connect with city officials, Rowles said.

Messages on the sign would have been regulated by SIHO and wouldn’t have been advertising, Rowles said.

Six plan commission members, Dennis Baute, Dave Fisher, Roger Lang, Dave Jones, Bryan Schroer, and Beth Fizel, voted against the sign. Commission members John Hatter, Frank Jerome and Tony London voted in favor.

In July, the commission tabled the request after members questioned whether the changeable message would distract drivers and about who would control the message on the sign.

Rowles said about 27 groups in the community supported the sign and wanted to use it, including the Columbus Area Arts Council and the Columbus Visitors Center.

Jones mentioned he had experience in the electronic sign business and knows how they work.

“If it’s not benefiting SIHO, then it really does become a billboard. It’s a billboard that you’re not using,” he said to Rowles. “It doesn’t surprise me that every nonprofit in town lined up behind the idea.”

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