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Variances for neon signs approved

Hometown Diner in Ottawa, Ohio is on its way to Rindge this week. The 1940s Silk City vintage diner is expected to open this fall near Edward Jones Investments at the intersection of routes 119 and 202.

Courtesy photo

Hometown Diner in Ottawa, Ohio is on its way to Rindge this week. The 1940s Silk City vintage diner is expected to open this fall near Edward Jones Investments at the intersection of routes 119 and 202. Courtesy photo Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

RINDGE — When the Hometown Diner on Route 119 opens, it will have a large neon sign lighting the way, after the Zoning Board agreed that the sign was integral to the character of the establishment.

In a public hearing Tuesday, the board voted to allow two variances for the Hometown Diner sign, one to allow it to exceed the normal size limitations for size, and the other to permit neon, where the town ordinance prohibits it. The sign includes two neon signs, one saying “Hometown,” which will top a “Diner” sign dating back to the 1940s. Together, the signs equal 60 square feet. According to Rindge’s Zoning Ordinance, a business sign in the Commercial Gateway District is restricted to 32 square feet and, with a second sign at the same location, may not exceed 48 square feet.

Tim Halliday, owner of the Hometown Diner, told the board the diner was a unique establishment. Many of the detractors are afraid of setting a precedent that would allow neon in town, he said, but the neon sign is integral to the overall feeling and authenticity of an old-fashioned diner.

ZBA alternate Rick Sirvint said adding neon will change the essential character of the district. He questioned the need to have the sign linked with the diner, when the sign is not original to the building .

“Diners exist without signs,” Sirvint said. He strongly objected to the use of neon. “What does neon represent? For a lot of people, it’s low-class, commercial and gaudy. This does change the character of the town. I moved to Rindge to get away from neon. I have no problem with the diner, my concern is the neon,” said Sirvint.

ZBA member Marcia Breckenridge disagreed with Sirvint’s assessment, saying that the purpose of the gateway district is to maintain a unique charm of the area, which the diner does. “To me, part and parcel with the diner is the diner sign,” she said. “The two are inextricably linked historically.” She also noted that the sign would be facing the intersection, and Halliday owns the abutting property, so there is no harm to the public that she can see.

Halliday’s wife, Anne Halliday, said she understands the concerns surrounding neon, but a restored diner’s neon sign is very different from other usages of neon. “Neon for many people is a dirty word, representing the Vegas strip or something similar. That’s not what we’re doing here,” she said.

Zoning Board Chair David Drouin said he isn’t so much concerned with the size of the sign. At least there, the board has a limit to work with, he said. He said he is more concerned with allowing neon in town, as the ordinance specifically forbids it.

ZBA member Joe Hill asked what Halliday would do if the board turned down his application for a variance to light up the neon, but permitted the sign’s size. Halliday said he would attempt to light the sign from the back or from overhead lighting.

Resident Gordon Ripley noted he felt the neon fit the business. “I see the word ‘diner’ in neon,” he told the board. “I think it’s going to be beautiful.” He added that he would hate to see a different sign have to go up at the diner.

Resident Roberta Gordenstein said she is in favor of the diner, but fears that allowing neon in this instance would set a precedent. “If you grant this, everyone else is gong to line up for the same thing. This business is going to flourish with or without a neon sign.”

Resident Richard Muller said that if the board feels the sign is integral to the character of the diner, the board should consider restricting the sign to the diner’s use.

The board voted that the sign met all five criteria for a variance, although none of these votes were unanimous. The board then voted 4-1 to grant both variances, one for size and the other for the neon illumination, as all the conditions had been met. The board added a condition that the oversized neon sign only be used in the operation of a diner. The Zoning Board will meet next on Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. at the town offices. The Hometown Diner is set to open in mid-September, and will be leased and operated by Bonnie Rosengrant of Rindge.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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