A couple of weeks ago, the American Legion Post 401 in Owego held a petition signing event to overturn a decision by the Owego Historic Preservation Commission, or OHPC, that denied the use of an electronic billboard; a sign purchased in 2021 in honor of Matt Howe, DOT worker that was struck killed on the job. A portion of Route 17 / 86 in Tioga County was dedicated to Howe in 2019.
According to Steve DuVarney, manager at the American Legion Post, in May of 2018 the OHPC told them the sign would not be approved if brought in front of the governing organization. Fast forward to June of 2021, and the sign was denied approval.
According to Village of Owego Mayor Michael Baratta, the OHPC offered to work with the Legion to find a suitable design to fit the neighborhood, like they did with the VFW, but nobody came back to them.
“Once denied, they can appeal the decision to the village board, but only within 30 days,” said Baratta.
Aside from all that, Baratta explained, if they do get by OHPC or get it overturned and allowed by the board, the Legion is zoned residential and the sign or any sign will need a zoning variance from the zoning board, which the Village Board can not overturn.
An OHPC meeting is planned for 7 p.m. on Oct. 6 at the Village Hall on Elm Street, with the sign topic most likely at the forefront of things.
Baratta hopes that the process on the sign will start moving again, and would like to see everyone working together to find a solution.
In another interview, with News Channel 34, Jim Overhiser, chairman for the OHPC, stated that the electronic sign does not fit the criteria of the historic district.
Overhiser, in the news clip, reiterated that the commission is not singling out the Legion for any other reason besides the billboard not fitting the historic standards.
He stated, in the interview, that if the commission allowed Post 401 to install the sign, that it would open the door for every other property in the district to do the same.
As for the Legion, they held a petition-signing event in mid-September to gather support for the sign. The event featured vendors, information for veterans, and allowed guests to view the sign and support it. DuVarney stated that they have a couple of hundred signatures already, to include 15 businesses located in the Historic District.
The Legion is encouraging folks to attend the Oct. 6 meeting of the OHPC to show their support.
As for others in the community, they think that code is code, and that the Legion should be held to the same laws; but will a variance of sorts be offered, and the sign utilized to advertise happenings in the village with its lit up sign?
Time will tell; but for now, it could just be a sign of the times, as our reader stated.
The historical commission is more like the HYSTERICAL COMMISSION. I thought we lived in a free country not in a country where we are told what to do how to do it and what we can do with our own property, right down to the colors that they deem proper to paint your business or your home. This is a total disgrace and they should be severely ashamed of themselves as they sit in their high and mighty chairs.
The signs brightness can be toned down, the intention is for it to be used to promote local happenings…as well as matters regarding the post. First friday, strawberry fest, local fundraisers etc. Its a memorial that was donated…for local purposes beyond the legion.