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Thread: Sign permit issued in error (was: Help...my sign screw up)

  1. #1
    Cyburbian SideshowBob's avatar
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    Sign permit issued in error (was: Help...my sign screw up)

    Hello:
    I just realized that i gave a sign permit I should not have given. It is a pretty typcial "box" sign on a wall. The problem is that it never occurred to me that the side wall of the property is not set back off of the property line.

    (the store owner has now called me back and to my suprise was very cool and understanding. I just advised he not hook up the electrical and wait to hear from me. Anyway...)

    This was pretty much entirely my mistake. So the question I have is...what now? Is it stuck being there because I permitted it? Must he take it down? I guess I'll call the City Attorney tomorrow.

    This is the first sign error of any significance that I have made.

    Anyone ever been through this before?

    Moderator note:
    Title edited. Please use descriptive titles outside the FAC. Carry on.
    Last edited by Gedunker; 14 Dec 2006 at 8:42 PM.
    Fighting congestion by widening roads is like fighting obesity by buying larger clothes.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Even if something was approved in error, it is still an illegal sign and must go. The owner may have a claim against the city for costs of the sign because he believed he was doing someting legal when in fact he was not.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Fat Cat's avatar
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    Fat Cat

    I agree tell him you made an error. If you don't correct immediately, it is just going to get worse.

  4. #4
    I hate to be the negative voice it all of this, but I think you are stuck. He does have a valid permit and as long as he didn't present misleading information or lie about it. I sugguest you admit your mistake and have him come in for a variance, after waiving the filing fee. You will live through this, learn from it and add it to the stories you tell other planners. Trust me, I've done worse and lived to tell about it.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    If it was me, I could give him a call immediately. Try to get him to cooperate with you and possibly relocate the sign to a conforming location. I guess it all depends on what is required on the sign permit application. If he did not turn in everything needed, they you may have a leg to stand on, however a judge would ask why it was issued without the proper information being submitted.

    Biggest thing is contacting him immediately. If you explain it to him, most business owners I think would work with you, even if they are not happy about it.
    "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. Time makes more converts than reason." - Thomas Paine Common Sense.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    There is case law in MI that states that a municipality can enforce its ordinance even if they themselves erroneously issued a permit. Assuming it is similar there, you have the legal right to require its removal. At least it sounds like the property owner is somewhat willing to listen!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    The first question is: can he move it to a location that meets sign requirements and at what cost?

    There are two sides to this that need to be reconciled.

    1. Typically a permit issued in error does not give the applicant/owners any vested rights--its too bad of course for the applicant.

    On the other hand,

    2. I have personally argued that reliance on an affirmative government act ie issuance of a sign permit, gives me every right to erect the sign (in this case)--to bad for government.

    And sideshow bob--this is no big deal, really. It is certainly something that can be fixed.
    Last edited by gkmo62u; 15 Dec 2006 at 9:42 AM. Reason: addition

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by gkmo62u View post
    I have personally argued that reliance on an affirmative government act ie issuance of a sign permit, gives me every right to erect the sign (in this case)--to bad for government.
    I disagree that this would validate the permit. However, I think it would give the permitee very strong grounds to file a claim against the muni's insurance carrier to cover the costs of relocating the sign and to prevail.
    Je suis Charlie

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I said I have argued it gives me the right to erect the sign. I did not say the permit was "valid" per se. The fact is that this is a small issue, say a couple of thousand dollars to fix.

    All I am saying is that local government must bear repsponsibility for the mistake, in some form. And perhaps payment to move the sign is appropriate.

    In any event, if the fix does not satisfy the owner, you are headed to court.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian chasqui's avatar
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    Battle picking time

    I agree you should own up to the mistake ASAP. As far as a solution goes, this is the sort of instance where being "a hard ass" could get your department terrible press. Is your development dept currently 'a whipping boy', or 'can you do no wrong'?
    OTOH, 'fixing the problem' is the sort of thing that can get you the reputation as a 'good place to do business'.
    Another consideration is that if this is a sign contractor you will be working with this person a lot in the future. I'm not saying you should let one slide, but I do suggest making this right by:

    1. telling the applicant of your mistake; and
    2. finding a solution that is legal, they can comfortable with, and shows that you are willing to work with them, such as:
    a - a variance (no fee) allowing the sign despite the setback (is there a problem inherint with the lot that the building didn't have the appropriate setback?)
    b - meeting the applicant on-site to determine any other permittable locations for the sign

  11. #11
    Quote Originally posted by Whose Yur Planner View post
    I hate to be the negative voice it all of this, but I think you are stuck. He does have a valid permit and as long as he didn't present misleading information or lie about it. I sugguest you admit your mistake and have him come in for a variance, after waiving the filing fee. You will live through this, learn from it and add it to the stories you tell other planners. Trust me, I've done worse and lived to tell about it.
    No way. The law is the law, the zoning code is the zoning code. Even as an administrator of the code, I do not have the ability to issue a permit that does not comply with it (unless the code specifically allows me to deviate, and in that case, it's in compliance with the code to do so).

    The municipal code is the law of the land and the city employees who administer it are not authorizing an illegal permit simply by issuing it in error. In fact, I am not even sure that the applicant is entitled to their money back. They should have known the law too.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    that's a great hard line to take travis, but the juristiction made a mistake, through one of its employees. planners in this position should attempt to find a solution. The city does not want litigation and a hard line leads to that. The sign was erected because a planner said it could go there. we should advocate a resonable as well as legal solution shouldn't we?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cityscape Dreamer's avatar
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    The problem is that it never occurred to me that the side wall of the property is not set back off of the property line.
    You failed to mention if the encroachment is over public or private property. Does your sign ordinance have language which explicitly prohibits aerial encroachments over public property?

    If it encroaches over public property and your sign ordinance is silent on aerial encroachments, you might want to check with the Building Official regarding what your adopted building code allows in terms of above-grade encroachments over public r-o-w. If your adopted building code is based on the ICC, things such as awnings or architectural features on zero lot line buildings are allowed to encroach to certain degree (see chapter 32 and appendix H); the sign you describe could fit into that category.

    If the sign box encroaches over private property, that's another issue entirely and the permit should probably be cancelled and refunded.

    Do not go for a variance unless there is an arguable practical difficulty for this particular property in adhering to the ordinance. "permit issued by mistake" is not an arguable practical difficulty (self-created). Other types of non-projecting signs are an alternative, as well as choosing another location.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian solarstar's avatar
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    Our regs have a provision where we can revoke a permit within 30 days if issued in error. That's the same length as an appeal process, so any permit obtained is still "open" at that point. We have one permitting tech that has had more than a few revoked - it's not pretty but has stood up in court. I agree that it depends on how important this is and the current political status of your department. Will anyone care? Sometimes it's best to just shrug and get it the next time, unless it is a huge mistake that will cause neighbor griping, bad press, etc.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
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    Case Law?

    Quote Originally posted by SW MI Planner View post
    There is case law in MI that states that a municipality can enforce its ordinance even if they themselves erroneously issued a permit. Assuming it is similar there, you have the legal right to require its removal. At least it sounds like the property owner is somewhat willing to listen!
    OOOOhhh, this might be helpful for a similar situation that I'm dealing with here. While I'm not in Michigan, I'd be interested to look at that case law. Do you have a link or a name for me to look up? Thanks.

    (In my case, it's a building permit that was issued, house built too close to the road, and the ZBA has just denied the after-the-fact variance application.)
    How do I know you are who you think you are?

  16. #16
    Cyburbian SideshowBob's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cityscape Dreamer View post
    You failed to mention if the encroachment is over public or private property. Does your sign ordinance have language which explicitly prohibits aerial encroachments over public property?

    If it encroaches over public property and your sign ordinance is silent on aerial encroachments, you might want to check with the Building Official regarding what your adopted building code allows in terms of above-grade encroachments over public r-o-w. If your adopted building code is based on the ICC, things such as awnings or architectural features on zero lot line buildings are allowed to encroach to certain degree (see chapter 32 and appendix H); the sign you describe could fit into that category.

    If the sign box encroaches over private property, that's another issue entirely and the permit should probably be cancelled and refunded.

    Do not go for a variance unless there is an arguable practical difficulty for this particular property in adhering to the ordinance. "permit issued by mistake" is not an arguable practical difficulty (self-created). Other types of non-projecting signs are an alternative, as well as choosing another location.
    Encroachment on private.

    Quote Originally posted by solarstar View post
    Our regs have a provision where we can revoke a permit within 30 days if issued in error. That's the same length as an appeal process, so any permit obtained is still "open" at that point. We have one permitting tech that has had more than a few revoked - it's not pretty but has stood up in court. I agree that it depends on how important this is and the current political status of your department. Will anyone care? Sometimes it's best to just shrug and get it the next time, unless it is a huge mistake that will cause neighbor griping, bad press, etc.
    Our political culture is that nobody will probably ever notice or care. The adjacant property owner does not care. We're "shrugging it." The owner understands that if a future neighboring property owner makes a stink, that there will be a hassle.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 22 Dec 2006 at 8:42 AM. Reason: double reply
    Fighting congestion by widening roads is like fighting obesity by buying larger clothes.

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