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Zoning board OKs repair and remount of 2 historic signs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Historic signs can be fixed at two Charleston businesses, the city's Board of Zoning Appeals ruled Thursday.

Zoning board members unanimously approved zoning variances to allow old neon signs at Fountain Hobby Center on Washington Street West and the downtown Firestone store at the corner of Washington Street East and Dickinson Street to be taken down, repaired and remounted.

A third case, involving the iconic Budget Tapes & Records sign in Kanawha City, was postponed. The owners are submitting a revised variance request to replace the old wooden sign with a metal one.

Board members also approved a fence variance for the owners of the former Glenwood school on the West Side, which is being converted to senior apartments, and a parking variance for a housing project on Seventh Avenue.

City zoning laws state that, once someone removes a sign that does not meet current standards, it can't be put back up. Projecting signs like those at Fountain Hobby and Firestone no longer are permitted.

However, the historic signs had lots of community support, including from Mayor Danny Jones and the city's Planning Department staff. Jones urged the board to let Fountain Hobby fix its sign.

"The [West Side] corridor, the first thing you see is the Fountain Hobby sign," Jones said. "It's unattractive now, but you can tell it used to be very attractive."

West Side Main Street board president Adam Krason and program director Stephanie Johnson also put in plugs for the sign.

After the meeting, Cathy Morse Callihan said her grandfather commissioned the sign when he opened what was a soda fountain and drug store in North Charleston in 1947. Her family moved it to its current location, a former Valley Bell store, in 1960.

"People come from all over to take pictures of the sign." It's one of the last of its kind, she said. "It designates an area. I think it's like everything -- you appreciate what you don't have."

Freeman Smith, a project manager with Architectural Graphics Inc., said his company has helped refurbish a number of Firestone signs, including one recently in the historic district of Lancaster, Pa.

The signs at the Charleston garage, the second-oldest in the Firestone chain, are about 50 years old, he said.

"In order to refurbish these signs, we need to remove them," Smith said. "If we try to do them on the building, they just don't look good."

Neighborhood planner Lori Brannon said the two Firestone signs are located in the downtown historic district.

"The sign is vintage and contributes to the historic character of the downtown," she said. "Historic preservation is a key component in the ongoing effort to revitalize commercial districts throughout the city."

John Emmons of Alan Ives Construction said most residents of other townhouses his company has built don't own vehicles, so the 11 units he plans at the old American Legion Post 57 hall at Seventh Avenue and Rebecca Street don't need the required 22 parking spaces.

The property was home to the notorious Clo & Mahone's Lounge in the early 2000s, leased to Chlorine Carter and Robert Mahone by the Legion. Carter and Mahone surrendered their liquor license shortly after two young men were gunned down in the parking lot in August 2004.

Alan Ives is a subsidiary of Chicago-based developer Scott Canel & Associates, which has built new housing and refurbished most of the city's public housing complexes.

At the Glenwood site, Steve Sadd said he wants to replace an unsightly chain-link fence with a decorative aluminum fence. Although the new, 6-foot fence would be shorter than the old one, it's still two feet taller than allowed under zoning regulations.

Brannon enthusiastically supported the request.

"This is an historic renovation," she said. "It cannot be overstated, the benefit to the neighborhood."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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