Barn signs to get plan commission OK after months of debate

HANCOCK COUNTY — Following months of debate, county officials have opted to ease requirements for farmers who want to put advertisements on the sides of their barns, saying the signs add to the surrounding scenery.

The Hancock County Area Plan Commission is expected to approve a series of revisions to the sign ordinance at its public hearing Tuesday that will clarify the definition of barn signs while amending a loophole that might have paved the way for billboards that could be considered unsightly.

The plan commission first addressed the issue in February after a resident complained about a bright blue barn with Culver’s restaurant logos painted on its sides that are visible to both east and westbound traffic on east U.S. 40.

For months, commission members debated whether barn signs should require the same permits issued to people seeking billboards that advertise offsite businesses or services. At its April meeting, the plan commission members decided barn signs are more artwork than advertisement and shouldn’t require permits, and Mike Dale, county planner, revised the ordinance to reflect the change.

County attorney Gregg Morelock said the revisions are intended to close a loophole that could have set a legal precedent allowing property owners to place other signs on their property, claiming they are no different than a barn sign and should be permitted.

“Anytime you start to differentiate one scenario from another, there’s always the possibility that the person who’s denied the right to put up a sign may point to the barn sign and say, ‘Why do they get to put one up there, and I’m not allowed to put one on my garage?’” he said.

Hancock County Plan Commission member Bill Bolander said he voted in favor of the barn signs because they add character to the countryside.

Though barn signs often serve as advertisements, the medium is a nostalgic one, he said.

“I remember seeing ‘Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco’ signs all over the country back in the day,” Bolander said. “Barn signs have become part of our American heritage, and I don’t see why we should restrict them.”

The revised ordinance specifies that barns will be the only structures that don’t require permits if used to display a promotional sign, Dale said.

“We don’t want people to just put up signs on any building and say that it’s the same as a barn sign,” he said, adding that billboards are still restricted to areas zoned for industrial and commercial properties.

The revisions also specify that barn signs will be limited to one per property, and any others will require a permit.

If the plan commission passes the proposed revisions at Tuesday’s public hearing, the changes will move on for approval from the Hancock County Board of Commissioners.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.