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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

New Fire Company No. 2 sign

Hammonton Independent Vol. Fire Co. No. 2 held their annual Fish Fry on April 8 at the White Horse Pike fire station. Firefighter Joe Kendall and First Lt. Tim Kelly helped out with the event. (THG/Sean Friel. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Representatives from Hammonton Independent Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 appeared before the planning board at that body’s meeting on April 6, held in town hall.

Fire Company No. 2 had submitted an application, referred to as ARH (Adams, Rehmann and Heggan Associates) File No. 1112113.01, for C-Variance relief at 51 N. White Horse Pike, Block 4601/Lot 27. The applicant was seeking approval to replace the current, outdated sign with an electrical message board sign in order to provide information about events, fundraisers and activities to the public in an efficient and effective manner.

Attorney Frederick J. DeClement represented the applicant.

“As you all know, they’ve been a fire company that’s been in the town, I understand, for about 125 years—and they’ve had that property over there on the White Horse Pike for that long,” DeClement said.

Professional planner Lance Landgraf offered testimony, as did the fire company’s secretary, Joseph Lizza.

Landgraf noted that the fire hall is located within Hammonton’s Gateway 2 Zone, in the form-based code section of the town, which focuses on which types of buildings are allowed in that particular area.

“A civic-type structure is not really a permitted use in the zone. However, this building and this use has been here for quite some time, and it predates the form-based codes—so it’s an existing nonconforming building with regard to your form-based code. I don’t believe—and I think Stuart [Wiser] would agree—that we need that relief,” Landgraf said.

Town planner Stuart Wiser responded.

“I had recommended that the board—assuming they are satisfied that it predates the zoning—that it be granted a certificate of nonconformity,” Wiser said.

Landgraf noted that the town’s land use law does not permit this type of message board in that zone.

“We do need a variance for that, and we’re thinking that falls under a C-2 type because this is an accessory use to the permitted use on the site. It’s not the sole use of the property,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf explained the application.

“There’s an existing sign just to the west of the driveway for the nursing home that is what advertises the site now. It puts out events, public safety messaging, things of that nature. It’s a changeable-text sign, but it’s changed by hand,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf said that the existing sign is actually offsite.

“It’s not on the property; it’s in an easement that’s existed for many years that’s just next to the driveway for the nursing home. They want to bring that sign back onsite so they have control of it. When we asked for a copy of the easement, nobody could show us that ... We can’t get a hold of anybody at the nursing home that has it. We don’t have it, so we’re going to bring it back onto our property and bring it back under our control,” Landgraf said.

Later in the meeting, board member Chris Kalani inquired about the easement “that no one can find.”

“Should something be filed to eliminate that easement?” Kalani said.

Wiser replied.

“Without knowing who the easement is in favor of—and by and between—I don’t know who files what against whom,” Wiser said.

Wiser then deferred to board solicitor Joseph P. McGroarty, who commented further.

“You’d have to do a title search to see what’s of record. Chances are, if it was from long ago, maybe it wasn’t even placed on record; it was a handshake agreement. But, you certainly can do some title work and find out—for both lots ... There should be a record of that easement. If there’s not, it’s not really binding,” McGroarty said.

During his presentation, Landgraf described the proposed sign.

“What’s being proposed is a 34.8—just under 35—square-foot digital, changeable-text sign; ‘electronic message board’ is another terminology for it. The ordinance permits up to a 120 square-foot pylon sign, or an 80 square-foot monument sign. We’re neither of those, but I mention that due to the fact that we’re underneath both of those sizes that are permitted,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf said that the sign complies with the maximum width of eight feet, but that its height “is a little bit taller.”

“We’re about 9.35 feet to the peak of the sign,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf said that a second nonconformity with the design of the sign regards sign clearance, which requires seven feet.

“We’re proposing it at five; that’s from the bottom of the sign to the ground. It’s going to be right along our property line, so it’s not really in an area that people’ll be walking,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf said that one of the parking spaces will be removed next to the site to get the sign off the roadway.

“We’re not in any of the sight triangles for the state highway, the White Horse Pike,” Landgraf said.

Later in the meeting, Wiser inquired further regarding the number of parking spaces.

“Does it take us to a situation where you’re below what you need to have, A., in terms of our ordinance, and B., in terms of functioning of the firehouse?” Wiser said.

Landgraf said that it will not.

“We needed 55, and we have 65 onsite; if we lose one, we’re at 64,” Landgraf said.

The sign’s maximum letter height, Landgraf said, will be six inches, which meets the requirements of town ordinances.

“That will be digital,” Landgraf said.

Landgraf said that a design waiver is needed for the support of only one pole.

“Your ordinance requires two poles. If you look, there are two poles on it, but they’re hidden within the base, so, technically, we have two poles holding the sign up, but it’s covered with one solid wrap around the bottom so we do need a waiver,” Landgraf said.

Another requirement of the ordinance, Landgraf said, is that the message board “shall not exceed 80 percent of the total sign area.”

“We’re at 54.1 percent, so we’re below the area of the sign that’s permitted to be electronic ... Just about half of the sign will be the digital portion, and the other half will be static text that’ll be mounted on the sign,” Landgraf said.

Councilman Edward Wuillermin asked if the street address was going to be on the sign. Landgraf said that it will be added to the static text at the top of the sign.

Landgraf said that the sign will be for onsite advertising only.

“It will not be advertising offsite signs. It will only be for events on the site hosted by the fire company, as well as public safety messaging,” Landgraf said.

During discussion, Wuillermin asked for clarification.

“There will be a stipulation in the approval that the use of the sign will be for the purpose of the fire hall and its activities exclusively; no advertising of any offsite uses?” he said.

Landgraf replied in the affirmative.

“No offsite advertising. That would be another variance. That would be a billboard,” Landgraf said.

Board chairman Ed Marinelli reiterated that point.

“Only information that pertains to the fire company,” Marinelli said.

Landgraf responded.

“That’s correct,” Landgraf said.

Board member Dr. Michael Hozik expressed concerns on this matter.

“I’m a little puzzled. I got a solicitation to support this. Among the things it says that puzzled me a bit is the diamond sponsor—for $5,000—gets six months of advertising on the sign. Platinum sponsor gets five months of advertising; gold sponsor, four months of advertising. You get the picture; I don’t need to read them all,” Hozik said.

Landgraf said that he had not seen the solicitation.

“They would not be allowed to do that,” Landgraf said.

Board vice-chair Gordon Pherribo said that he had also seen the solicitation.

“I really have problems with this whole thing. From what I saw—not on your application, but outside of your application—it looks like you want to do a lot more than what your application says,” Pherribo said.

Lizza addressed the board regarding the matter.

“That original mailer went out when we were originally trying to raise funds for the sign. First of all, we did not reach any of those levels, and also, we never had the intention to advertise on the sign. We originally had the intention to recognize those who donated to make the sign possible, but we never made it that we were going to promote any local businesses on a continuous basis. That was never the plan,” Lizza said.

Pherribo repeated his concerns, to which Landgraf responded.

“They will not be able to advertise anything offsite. If they do, you can issue a fine. You can have them turn the sign off. It’s not permitted,” Landgraf said.

Wiser asked Lizza for further clarification.

“Since this is a concern for the board, I want to put a real fine point on this: you’re not going to put up ‘thank you XYZ business for donating to the fire company?’” Wiser said.

Lizza replied.

“No, we won’t,” Lizza said.

During his report, Wiser addressed the sign’s hours of operation, which the applicants had proposed to be 24/7.

“The ordinance says that the message board must be turned off between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. We believe that that would be a design waiver, as well,” Wiser said.

Landgraf agreed.

“We would request that waiver,” he said.

After the application was presented, McGroarty described the type of motion needed.

“We have an application for a C-2 Variance to allow an accessory electronic message board, so I’m going to need a motion to grant the variance,” McGroarty said.

McGroarty noted in the proposed motion that the approval is contingent on the conditions set forth during the meeting and in Wiser’s report.

“The messaging on the sign is only for onsite activities and public safety; no thank-yous, acknowledgements, otherwise would be acceptable. The sign would also include and incorporate a street address, and the sign illumination and the background of that should follow the criteria set forth in the chart in ARH’s report ... a second part of that motion would be a vote on the certificate of nonconformity for the firehouse itself,” McGroarty said.

Wuillermin made the motion, which board member Michael Messina seconded. Marinelli, Messina, Kalani, board members Ralph Capaccio and Jonathan Baske, Councilmen Jonathan Oliva and Wuillermin voted in favor of the motion.

Board member Michael Pullia—a member of Hammonton Volunteer Fire Company No. 1—abstained from the vote, while Hozik and Pherribo voted against the motion.

The motion passed, and the application was approved.

In other business, the board entertained the following resolution:

CTX Infrastructure, LLC, Application No. 6-21PB—Preliminary major site plan approval with C-Variance relief at 145 S. Second Rd. in Hammonton Business Park, Block 1201/Lot 1.01. Applicant was approved to construct an 8,000 square-foot commercial office building, a 4,000 square-foot commercial maintenance building, an equipment storage yard and associated site improvements on Lot 1.01.

The resolution was adopted.

The planning board regularly holds meetings on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at 7 p.m. The next meeting is scheduled for April 20.


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