Firm’s request sparks worries about large signs along I-43

Port commission divided over whether companies should be allowed to go big with freeway-area advertising
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

When is a sign more than a sign? When it’s an oversized sign to be erected on a lot off Highway LL on Port Washington’s north side requested by a business that wants it large enough to be read from I-43.

The Port Washington Plan Commission  last week debated a request for a 360-square-foot monument sign to be erected just south of the Country Inn and Suites, where Matt Nelson is considering constructing an office building for his American Advantage Insurance business at 350 Seven Hills Rd.

Commission member Tony Matera, who has opposed other oversized signs in the area, argued against the sign.

“I want to protect this corridor. I don’t want this to turn into Wisconsin Dells,” Matera said, noting that every oversized sign that’s approved creates a new normal for future signs. “I would urge the commission not to turn that corridor into a bunch of signs.

“We have to look at this as not just today but down the road. There are (plans for) a potential business park in the city and in the town in that area,” he said. “I’m not against the project; I’m against the sign.”

Commission member Eric Ryer concurred with Matera’s concern about the creeping increases in sign sizes, saying, “I think every business is interested in how big can I go. It seems like every business in this area is coming in for exceptions (to the city sign code).”

But other commission members said it is only normal for a business along the freeway to want a sign that can be read by motorists.

“I understand why a business would want to buy that lot and take advantage of the location,” commission member Ron Voigt said. “The only reason someone would want that lot is for visibility.

“If we don’t want to see that be business, maybe we should zone it for residential.”

Commission member Brenda Fritsch added, “Signage is important for businesses.”

The city codes allow a maximum 125 square foot sign, but property owners may seek a special exception to allow a larger sign.

In February, the commission approved an exception for a 347-square-foot sign at Country Inn and Suites, where it will replace a wall sign on the north and west facades, and last year it approved an exception for the Piggly Wiggly supermarket at the NorthPort Shopping Center.

Joshua Brown of Sign Effectz said the 12-foot-tall sign proposed for Nelson’s business would be perpendicular to the freeway so it could be seen by motorists from both directions.

It would be the only freestanding sign for the business, Brown said, adding a wall sign would identify the insurance agency along Highway LL.

“No one’s going to be walking past it,” he said, adding the sign wouldn’t be visible from Highway LL.

The sign is seen as essential to the project, Brown said, noting the entire building project depends on approval of the oversized sign.
“It’s for marketing. It’s for growth and expansion,” he said. “The exposure to I-43 would be huge for him (Nelson).”

But some commission members questioned why an insurance agent needs such a large sign.

“I don’t understand. People are going to be driving on I-43 and pull off the freeway to buy insurance?” Mayor Marty Becker, chairman of the commission, said. 

Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, a member of the commission, concurred. The oversized sign for the Country Inn and Suites is intended to draw customers off the interstate, he said, and the larger  sign for Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly is also intended to draw business from passing motorists.

“To me, this one is just pure advertising,” he said. “To me, it shouldn’t be strictly for advertising’s sake. That’s where I make a distinction.”

Becker said he came into the discussion  intending to vote against the oversized sign.

“If the building will block it from Highway LL and the purpose is to see it from I-43, I can change my mind,” he said.

Several commission members suggested the city take a look at the sign code for the area to determine what might be the most appropriate size for the area.

Commission members approved the oversized sign, 4-2, with Ald. Paul Neumyer, a member of the commission, abstaining. As a condition of the approval, commission members agreed that the sign could not go up until the building is underway and the final location of the signboard be determined when the building site plan is submitted. That way, members said, the city can ensure the sign won’t be visible from Highway LL.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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