BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
Alex’s Market and Grill’s new LED sign is too commercial for Preservation Clarkston, which wants to keep Independence Township one of the last “bedroom communities” in the county.
Owners filed a zoning ordinance amendment with Independence Township Planning Commission for an LED sign in front of the property under construction at 4707 White Lake Road.
“My point is de-emphasizing commercial, and that’s where my big hurdle is,” said Sam Moraco, member of the Planning Commission, which voted 4-1 to recommend denial of the amendment, at the Aug. 8 public hearing. “I’ve been trying to bring the signs down to de-emphasize commercial in the community and keep it more of a bedroom community. I just can’t get past the point that this is blinking, something to draw your attention to commercial. That goes against the emphasis of de-emphasizing commercial, in my opinion.”
Joe Locricchio, owner of JLG Properties, said the property is located on one of the most remote residential locations in the community.
“Very few residences within earshot, and I think that’s one of the discretions of the PUD (Planned Unit Development) that allows you to look at the physical location of this business,” Locricchio said. “They have a flashing sign on Bluegrass, which is in the heart of a residential neighborhood. I think it’s text and time and temperature, but again, it’s a flashing sign that can be a distraction. Anybody who’s been by our building, you’ll see that building is about integrity and character and providing something unique to the community.”
Locricchio also pointed out the gas stations at Sashabaw and Waldon roads and Sashabaw and Maybee roads – bookends to the Independence Township business corridor – that have advertisements covering a great deal of the stations’ windows.
“We could have a lot of window space compromised, but we don’t want to do that,” he said. “We do not want to do this type of thing on our windows. We have 10,000 square feet per floor level and want our product known out there. We believe what we are proposing is a far better alternative and a way to relay a message than (the two aforementioned gas stations). I will tell you I have lived in this community for 30 years, my father started developing here in 1969 when I was a six-year-old kid. I’ve been a part of this community for 50 years. I love it and am proud of it. Three kids through the school system, I love this place.”
Richard Carlisle of the Carlisle/Wortman Associates planning firm responded to Moraco at the public hearing.
“How out of character is 12 and a half square feet of changeable copy with a light intensity that meets industry standards for any type of internally illuminated sign,” Carlisle asked at the Aug. 8 meeting. “That’s the way I suggest you think about it and come to your own decision. The fact is that this sign is a minor part of a very large and nicely done development. I don’t think there is any denying the fact that it’s a large building, a very beautiful building, and this is simply one more device to advertise what it is that they’re doing there.”
Moraco added his own rebuttal.
“On that point, since they’re in a PUD (planned unit development) and everyone else in the township, at least the majority of the businesses are in a PUD – that’s how we zoned and protected ourselves against big businesses coming in here – how do we stop everyone from having (LED signs),” he asked. “This isn’t about Alex’s Market. This is about the whole community. I would need to know how you are going to tell CVS that they can’t have one or Kroger that they can’t have one or Ace Hardware that they can’t have one – how can we legally tell everyone else they can’t have one?”
Carlisle responded, saying, “You can, because right now, it’s not permitted by the ordinance. What they are asking for is a major amendment to a PUD, which you do have the discretion to allow for a deviation from your ordinance requirements.”
The applicants for the sign on behalf of Alex’s are JLG Properties owner Locricchio and Alex’s owner Steve Nannoshi. Both were present at the Aug. 8 meeting.
According to Preservation Clarkston, the township successfully held off commercial development which would drastically alter the character of the community. Earlier this year, the Planning Commission once again agreed that allowing changing-text LED signs would damage the look, feel and character of the community. The commission agreed to amend the sign ordinance (currently allowing time, temperature, and gas prices to be displayed as visible LED text) and all fixed-panel signs can be back lit with LED technology to save energy.
There is also data to confirm the dangers of distraction to drivers from these signs. It is outlined in the sign ordinances, stating one of its objectives is to reduce visual distractions and obstructions to motorists traveling along, entering, or leaving streets, said Preservation Clarkston.
“If allowed, this would change the entire character of the community and open the floodgates for all other businesses in the township to do the same,” Preservation Clarkston said in an email. “The City of the Village of Clarkston also has a hard stance on changing text LED signage as they foresee what the effects would be on their town. This issue involves the village residences as much as the township residences. If these signs were ever allowed in the township, the village’s quaint feel will shrink down to a couple of city blocks.
“We do not want to be like other local communities. People from those communities are moving here for a reason.”
Readers also commented on the issue on The Clarkston News’ Facebook page.
“Personally, I don’t think it should have been put there in the first place,” said Gail Ferguson. “Should have been off the expressway. Don’t need any more traffic on White Lake (or) we will be like Troy.”
Chad Wood said, “All the newbies that escaped Sterling Heights and other overbuilt areas are now trying to turn Clarkston into another Sterling Heights. Boo.”
“I personally find these types of signs annoying but the location being proposed is by an asphalt plant, storage facility, small industrial businesses and a strip mall, hardly a ‘bedroom community’ and as noted in the letter to the editor (Clarkston News, July 31), similar signs are already allowed and this one is recommended by the planner with some restrictions so someone has to figure out what they want and if they can legally have it,” said Cory Johnston.
David Yackell said the signs could harm the environment.
“We have enough light pollution in the world as it is,” said Yackell. “Leave the lights to Vegas, not Clarkston. You want a big city, go move to a big city. I’d be more in favor of decreasing lights. You used to be able to see the stars in Clarkston, (but) not anymore.”
Planning Commissioner Ron Ritchie voted to recommend the amendment at the Aug. 8 meeting. Moraco called on Carlisle to research how other municipalities handle LED signs and report back at a future meeting.