The issue came before the city BZA Monday after several years of the Hawkins unintentional violation. She became aware of the issue in January 2011 when she received a letter from city building inspector Todd Slabaugh detailing the violation. Shortly after receiving the letter, Hawkins said her sign was spray painted so her husband took it down. The first sign she had in her yard was stolen in 2003, shortly after she said the city began cracking down on car dealers for their illegal signs.
According to Hawkins, she was granted a home based business permit in 2001 and, at that time, requested a small free-standing sign to be placed in her yard at the corner of Fort Wayne and Sherman streets. Both Warsaw City Planner Jeremy Skinner and assistant planner Tim Dombrosky agreed the city’s minutes from that meeting a dozen years ago were not clear and requested Hawkins be allowed to continue to use the small sign in her front yard.
Hawkins has been hand-painting China in her home for nearly 30 years. She said it is a business and she pays taxes on it, adding it is a supplemental income for her and her husband.
Keeven argued Hawkins intent, though, saying the initial letter she wrote to the board regarding a free standing sign was not an official request. “That’s not a request, that’s a whimsical statement,” he said. “Furthermore, in writing these requests, people write to the city planner all the time with requests … it (the sign request) never came up, it was never brought it, it would not have been approved.”
The BZA was to consider three findings of fact in voting to either accept or deny the special exception request, which was ultimately approved. The board was to consider whether the sign would cause injury to public welfare or property, whether it would affect the use and value of adjacent property, and whether it would cause practical difficulty in using the property.
Keeven was adamant that, despite the history on the matter, the BZA would have never granted Hawkins permission to use a free-standing sign. After nearly 30 minutes of Keeven arguing why the exception should not be approved and hearing several remarks about the former city planner and why this matter was likely still not resolved, city attorney Mike Valentine addressed the board.
“You are a quasi judicial body and there is the business of living in this community and exercising some kind of equity. and whether you like it or not sometimes equity comes into play in these matters because we’re dealing with our friends and neighbors.” Valentine added, “I would recommend you get about the business fairly quickly of looking at those criteria and considering this history and making your decision. This is not a history lesson in what happened 10-11 years ago, that has nothing to do with it … Also, this is a board of appeals. It’s judgement that’s exercised.”
In the end, BZA member Mary Ellen Jordan made the motion to allow the Hawkins to continue using a 1-square-foot sign outside of her home. The matter was seconded by Derrick Haniford. Keeven asked Hawkins why she can’t just put the sign flush up to her house, but she said there are too many plants and trees that would have to be moved.
The motion in favor of Hawkins request was approved by a vote of 4-1 with Keeven opposing. Member Sean Boylan was not in attendance.