August 18, 2022 |

It’s not over until it’s over. In Saratoga, a variation for a sign that was defeated by planning and zoning board last week nearly passed town council this week before being tabled.

The debate centers on an oversized roof-top sign on an outdoor equipment rental shop, Base Camp, owned by the Saratoga Hot Springs Resort. The shop on Pic Pike Road is located directly across from the resort. The 200-square foot sign exceeds the 120-square feet allowed by ordinance, 18.63.040 C in total. The resort is seeking a variance to this ordinance to allow the sign.

The store’s sign first went up earlier this year without approval from the planning commission. It drew negative reactions from some area residents because of its size and night-time illumination. The resort addressed the lights immediately and eventually removed the sign in May.

Last week, the resort’s request for a variance was defeated by the Planning and Zoning Commission on a 3-2 vote. One of the aye votes was Mayor Creed James, who sits on the board.

To the surprise of at least one council member, the matter came before Saratoga Town Council this week. The resort’s attorney was present. Alan Harding argued that the sign does not detract from the character of the neighborhood.

Councilman Ron Hutchins said he supports the variance. Hutchins said that the sign is only visible to guests or employees of the resort, and that the larger size is necessary to attract business.

Pictured above: The Base Camp sign before it was removed. Photo courtesy Saratoga Hot Springs Resort.

Hutchins added that the resort is a destination in Saratoga and that the business contributes to the local economy.

Councilwoman Campbell said the primary objection to the sign originally were the flood lights that illuminated the area beyond the property boundaries at night. The lights have been removed are not included in the application for the variance. Campbell also said nearly all the resort’s neighbors have given their written consent for the sign.

Councilman Jon Nelson, who attended the meeting remotely, reminded the council that residents have come to planning commission meetings to voice their objection to the proposed sign. Nelson added that he is among those who finds the sign objectionable.

Councilman Nelson voiced his opposition to the variance. Reading the language of the ordinance, Nelson said the sign as proposed would change the character of the neighborhood.

Nelson, again reading the text of the ordinance as it is written, said the resort is seeking something much more than just the “minimum” modification to address a hardship allowed by town ordinance. In other words, a sign larger than 120-squre feet might be granted a variance, but a 200-square foot sign is too big of an ask.

Nelson also wondered why council was even considering the variance since the application was defeated by the planning commission last week. The matter should have died there, Nelson said.

Bigfoot 99 has learned that some planning commission members have expressed frustration with council’s decision to revisit the variance. Mayor James said that no one voiced an opinion either for or against the variance at a public. Councilman Nelson disagreed, saying peopled showed up at the meetings because they objected to the sign. James and Nelson disagreed about how to read a room, and what it means when a large number of people show up at a public hearing but don’t voice their opinion.

Councilwoman Campbell asked why the planning commission exists, if council won’t accept its recommendations.

Councilwoman Campbell suggested sending the matter back to the planning commission for further consideration. After some more discussion, Mr. Harding was given additional time to make the case for the variance. The resort’s attorney said that the larger sign is needed to attract customers, and that its location on the roof is at a lower height and less of an eyesore than if it was mounted on a pole in the parking lot.

After more discussion, town council decided to table the application and send the matter back to the planning committee for another public hearing.

This is the third sign variance sought by the resort, although for different parcels of land. The planning commission approved the two previous requests.


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