JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown Zoning Board of Appeals has approved the variance and special use requests from the National Comedy Center to install two large electronic signs on the facade of the facility.
Much of Thursday’s hearing focused on testimony from the NCC, which was provided by board member George Panebianco, although both executive director Journey Gunderson and board chair Tom Benson were also both in attendance. Panebianco offered reasons for why the NCC waited until the eleventh hour to make the requests to the board, as well as why no officials from the NCC attended a regular zoning board meeting earlier this month.
“To be clear, I acknowledge that there have been some mistakes and miscommunications between the National Comedy Center and the city of Jamestown regarding these signs,” Panebianco said in his opening statement. “We apologize for the process being delayed and the unnecessary controversy that has come with it. while there may be differences in how the law should be interpreted, it is our full intent to address the board, provide it with the appropriate information so that a positive determination can be made.”
Panebianco explained that there was a misunderstanding in regards to the zoning variance for the signs because the city planning commission had signed off on plans for the building in 2015 after the city code was updated to specifically address the signs.
“Section 300-0706 was created in April 2015 for the specific purpose of allowing those signs to come in. And what they did was they exempted the comedy center from that as long as there was site approval. That was passed on April 27, 2015,” Panebianco noted.
However, Zoning board member Jim Olson – who also served as Jamestown city clerk and worked in city government for over 30 years before retiring last summer – felt that the 2015 change in the code only addressed a portion of the NCC request involving the installment of the signs. He said once the new city code involving signs was adopted at the start of 2017, the NCC waited over a year before finally making its request for the variance and special use permit.
“Why are we sitting here with less than 60 days before opening, if city officials encouraged you to come in to do this in 2017 after the new code was put in place. Why did you guys wait so long,” Olson asked.
In response to Olson’s question, Panebianco said the NCC felt the city was wrong in requiring officials to come back and request the variances and special use permit for the signs, based on the prior approval of the site plans.
“Maybe we could have brought a lawsuit and went to court and decided whether we would have to come and do this, but we sat down with the city and we said, ‘Okay. We’ll put forward this application.’ We wanted to be compliant and we want to do everything we can for the safety, the health, and the welfare of this community and also for the betterment of the development of the west side of this community,” Panebianco said.
Later during the hearing, he reiterated the NCC’s commitment to working with the city.
“I’m sorry you had to go through this and I’m sorry we had to go through this. It was not our intention and if there were differences, I’m sorry it took so long and I’m sorry that we’re here. But we are here asking for your approval, with the clear understanding that we will be compliant with anything that furthers the safety of our citizens,” Panebianco said.
Following over an hour of testimony, questions, and public comment from six different individuals including Gebbie Foundation Executive Director Greg Edwards, the board voted on the two variances a final vote was 5 to 1.
Despite voicing his concerns with the process and how it felt like the NCC was thumbing its nose at the city by continuing to erect the screens for the sign even though a variance wasn’t yet granted and a cease and desist notice had been issued by the city, Olson put forward a reluctant “yes” vote.
The only board member to vote no was Richard Hanson, who said his reason was due to traffic safety concerns because the signs may have a negative impact on southbound traffic along Washington Street, which is a state route located right next to the NCC building and which sees significant traffic.
However, the zoning board pointed out that if the state DOT felt it was a significant hazard, it would be able to stop the usage of the signs – despite them receiving a variance and special use permit from the city.
Following the hearing, Panebianco said the NCC is obviously looking forward to completing the project in time for its grand opening on August 1.