Blaine council approves variance for larger sign at Village Bank building

Village Bank and the tenants of its building at 9268 Central Ave. NE will have a larger sign to display business names thanks to a variance approved Dec. 5 by the Blaine City Council.

Don Kveton owns Village Bank and a company, D & N Management, that has multiple commercial and retail space around Blaine. He forwarded an Oct. 11 letter to the city through the Top Line Advertising, Inc. sign manufacturing company requesting the sign variance.

The owner of Village Bank and this building at 9298 Central Ave. NE in Blaine that includes multiple other tenants received a variance to install a larger sign than city code allows. The new sign is scheduled to be installed in the spring. Photo by Olivia Koester
The owner of Village Bank and this building at 9298 Central Ave. NE in Blaine that includes multiple other tenants received a variance to install a larger sign than city code allows. The new sign is scheduled to be installed in the spring. Photo by Olivia Koester

Kveton asked to install a 195 square-foot sign that would be 16.5 feet tall. The current city ordinance says that signs along Highway 65 can be no larger than 140 square feet and no taller than 14 feet.

The biggest reason the sign variance is needed, according to Community Development Director Bryan Schafer, is due to a 45 square-foot digital LED reader board panel.

Schafer recommended denying the variance because city staff feels no hardship was demonstrated, the east facing LED panel would “an unnecessary distraction for motorists at a very significant intersection,” and currently city code allows this property a second sign.

“When you compare it to other cities, you will find you provide ample signage,” Schafer said. “If you ask the business community how much signage they want and need, it’s like asking a farmer how much rain do you need.”

The property has 400 feet of frontage on Highway 65, so Kveton could have installed a second sign, but he said it made more sense economically for him and logistically to have one large sign rather than two smaller signs.

“I feel this sign is critical for directing traffic to our location on behalf of Village Bank and other tenants in this building,” Kveton wrote Oct. 11. “This reader board sign will provide optimal marketing for our tenants, as well as announcements for other community events.”

The council approved this variance request 5-1. Councilmember Wes Hovland was absent from the Dec. 5 meeting.

Those who supported the variance asked city staff to explore modifying the Highway 65 sign ordinance to see if it could be updated to accommodate more larger signs.

“If you throw another sign in there you have a lot more clutter,” Councilmember Russ Herbst said. “They have a lot of different businesses inside that building. It’s hard to see what they have all got in there.”

Mayor Tom Ryan said businesses have gone through tough times in recent years and he was willing to help out.

Councilmember Dick Swanson asked if there was a viable way to amend the ordinance first.

“I personally do not like variances and I can see eight, nine, 10 other variances coming and I just assume have it within an ordinance,” he said.

Councilmember Dave Clark asked City Attorney Patrick Sweeney if the justification that the council intended to address the sign ordinance and make this a conforming use would be enough for the council to approve this variance. Sweeney said it would be.

Clark still voted no because he felt the council should have addressed the sign ordinance first rather than approve a variance and then tackle the sign ordinance.

Councilmember Kathy Kolb said, “The purpose of the 65 overlay was to keep 65 looking really nice. It’s grown in such a way that we have to look at the size and height of signs.”

Kolb said any new ordinance should addresses readerboard maintenance. She does not like seeing burned out readerboards and believes the city should have requirements in place for how they should be maintained.

Schafer told the council that it could schedule a meeting anytime to start looking at the Highway 65 sign ordinance. The council by March could vote on amending the ordinance to allow a larger sign such as Village Bank is getting.

However, addressing the whole Highway 65 sign code would be an expensive and timely process and he believes it is already a good ordinance.

D & N Management also owns the Blaine Central Plaza commercial development on the opposite side of Highway 65 from the Village Bank building. Ole Piper Inn is in this building and was gutted by a fire over a year ago, but has since reopened.

Kveton said he is planning to put a new sign on this corner as well. Both would include readerboard signs and a huge flower garden at the base.

“Those are two valuable corners to our family. We’re very proud to be here,” Kveton said. “We pay about a half-million (dollars) a year in property taxes in Blaine. I want to let you know I’m proud of that.

“I’m proud to be a businessman in this town. We work hard. We’re here everyday. We went through a lot of hell over the last couple of years, but we’re coming back and we’re doing a good job, and it’s because of people like you that make the difference. Whatever you can do we appreciate.”

Herbst said Kveton has invested a lot of money in his properties and has been a real good Blaine businessman.

Gabe’s Rinkside directional sign

A completely separate issue, but one that pertained to signage was Fogerty Arena management’s request to have the Gabe’s Rinkside Bar and Grill name or something generic like “Rinkside Grill” on an existing brown directional sign on Clover Leaf Parkway.

Fogerty Arena management had argued that Gabe’s Rinkside’s proceeds help offset the non-profit operations of the arena and thus should be considered different than other for-profit restaurants.

Kolb and Swanson said Fogerty Arena management hired Gabe’s to run its restaurant because of its well-known name and it knew the business would be less visible from the road.

Fogerty Arena Manager Rob Hall recently told ABC Newspapers that the Fogerty Arena Board of Directors decided to pull the request for more directional signage because a big issue it wants to focus on with city staff is paying for replacing a city ball field that was removed when the curling arena was constructed.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]