The city of Kokomo’s effort to reduce the number of billboards in town was inadvertently aided by the Nov. 17 tornado.
The storm damaged 15 billboards within city limits and an ordinance passed in May requires the damaged advertising signs be removed entirely. For three private business owners, including Burkhart Advertising Inc., that means lost revenue. For the city, it means a slightly cleaner skyline.
The ordinance, passed by the city’s plan commission, gives sole discretion to determine whether a sign is “obsolete” to Kokomo Plan Commission Director Greg Sheline. In the days following the tornadoes, Sheline and his staff determined the signs were no longer up to code. That decision was upheld by the Kokomo Board of Public Works and Safety on Wednesday.
Burkhart Advertising Inc., which owns 11 of the 15 signs, spoke in opposition to the ordinance during Wednesday’s meeting.
Burkhart Vice President of Corporate Affairs and attorney Gavin Ferlic argued the company should be allowed to repair the billboards. The board upheld the decision largely because the ordinance states that any legal, non-conforming signs that suffer damage are not allowed to be repaired.
“The important part of the ordinance here is the fact that these signs have become obsolete,” City Attorney Lawrence McCormack said. “[The ordinance] prohibits off-premise signs, which are billboards. Because these are now prohibited signs within the city of Kokomo, the planning commission cannot issue a sign permit to repair the sign — it’s a prohibited sign. Once it came down, there’s no way it can go back up.”
Ferlic argued the ordinance states a sign should only be removed if it is in “dilapidated, decayed or rotting condition [and] shall become dangerous to public or private safety or property or has been rendered obsolete.”
“Dilapidated is not defined in the ordinance,” Ferlic said, noting the signs were not in poor condition due to a lack of care. “With that in mind, I do not think being damaged by a tornado is dilapidated.”