The Richmond Hill City Council Tuesday night unanimously denied a variance request to its sign ordinance to allow a local church to install an LED sign.
Richmond Hill Church of Christ, located on Ford Avenue near Timber Trail, made the request after finding out it would lose part of its property due to the proposed widening of Highway 144.
“We were contacted by GDOT that we are going to lose some of our land through eminent domain and that we’ll have to change the location of our current sign,” said Rodney Miller, a member of the congregation who was chosen to make a presentation on behalf of the church. “If we have to change our sign, we’d like to update it to the 21st century.”
Miller said the church wanted to pursue an LED sign so that it could change its message rapidly and remotely.
“We are in the business of saving souls,” he said, citing Luke 19:10, which states: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Miller said the new sign would be a way to “communicate with the local population and invite them to attend our services.”
The city’s ordinance no longer allows LED signs, although those in existence at the time were grandfathered in. Miller said he counted more than two dozen around town, including pharmacies, gas stations, motels and restaurants.
“We’re not trying to be a bad neighbor,” he added.
Councilman Russ Carpenter said the decision was tough one and did not want to set a precedent by agreeing to the variance.
“It took us a year to write the ordinance,” he said. “Residents said no, they did not want any more gaudy, flashy LED signs.”
Miller said the church believed the variance should have been granted based on their First Amendment rights.
“It is a matter of our religious freedoms to practice our faith without interference by civil authorities,” he said. “It’s a matter of basic fairness and using modern technology.”
Planning and Zoning Director Scott Allison said he would work with the church to find a possible alternative.
“There is technology available for signs that make them look manual but they are actually automated,” he said. “It’s something gas stations use for price changes in areas where LED signs are strictly prohibited.”
In other business, the council voted to spend $25,000 to continue work on maintaining Sterling Creek to reduce the risk of flooding in areas that border it.