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Munfordville City Council: Political signs, water pooling create heated debate

Thomas Lemieux addressed the council regarding the water flooding on North Buckner Avenue, which has gotten worse since attempts have been made to repair it.

Katrina England

Reporter, Hart Co. News-Herald


The Munfordville City Council met in regular session on Monday, August 8 at Munfordville City Hall. Council members Kenny Shepperd, Annie Swift, Shelli Gibbons, Jeremy Atwell, and Bill Belt were in attendance, as well as Mayor John Johnson, City Attorney Matthew Roberts, and City Clerk Neva Brent. Council member Ricky Line attended virtually.

The Council approved the minutes from the July 11 meeting, as well as the financial report.

Public Concerns & Comments

Thomas Lemieux addressed the council regarding the water flooding on North Buckner Avenue.

“I’m sorry to say it didn’t go according to plan,” said Lemieux. “Basically, they’ve moved the first lake to behind my driveway, right behind my cars. The second lake is in my neighbor Devon’s, and the third lake is in Dr. Nichols’ driveway…So, I don’t know what happened.”

Lemieux stated that when his neighbor was given a variance for a carport, which also causes additional water to run into his yard, there was no zoning board, which he claimed was in violation of state laws.

According to the Kentucky League of Cities, a variance (which is a request for relief from strict application of zoning regulation) is a departure from dimensional terms of the zoning regulation pertaining to the height, width, length, or location of structures, and the size of yards and open spaces where such departure meets the requirements of KRS 100.241 to 100.247.

“I called Kentucky League of Cities, and we cannot give a variance,” said Zoning Administrator Michael Gibson. “I found out later. I was going to give a variance…We have a new ordinance since then…We cannot enforce either way. It’s against the law for us to do anything. We don’t have a zoning board or a code enforcement board. We were illegal to enforce anything. We are not allowed to do it.”

The Council members agreed that they were under the assumption a drain would be put in, though there was some disagreement over whether it had previously been put to vote or simply discussed.

Lemieux stated that he had an email from Scotty’s Paving that they had been approved to try to save money by raising the road instead of putting a drain in.

Mayor Johnson then reported that he received a call while on vacation in Florida from Scotty’s.

“(They) thought they could save the city $4,000 by a different approach, but that if it did not work, they would do what we’ve got to do to it,” said Johnson.

The Council agreed that the wedge did not work and instead created more problems than it solved.

“I’m no engineer, but I can stand in your driveway and see (the wedge),” said Swift.

Council member Kenny Shepperd made a motion that Mayor Johnson, on behalf of the City, as well as anyone else he wants to accompany him, will meet with the affected neighbors and a representative of Scotty’s at the North Buckner location to come up with a plan to elevate the original problem and the two new problems, then document it, and sign it.

The motion was unanimously approved.


Old Business

The Council heard and approved the second reading of 05-2022, the annexation of 111.377 acres.

Regarding the cost of opening Ward Street so Alan Miller can build houses, Mayor Johnson reported that David Peterson (CEA) advised that because of the distance from the fire hydrant, a four inch line can be used instead of a six inch line.

Council member Swift asked about the tree removal, which is currently unknown.

Regarding the lawns on North Buckner, which had been damaged during the installation of the new waterlines, Mayor Johnson said, “I talked to David Peterson, and he said he has all kinds of top soil…We talked about the fall, because the grass will grow better in the fall.”

Johnathan Nunn requested to address the Council regarding the discussed columbarium.

“You all are talking about spending a large amount of money at the city cemetery to put in a columbarium. In my 20 years of being a mortician from Louisville to Bowling Green, and settling back in my hometown, I have put five people that I can remember in a niche,” Nunn said. “I do not feel, in my line of business, I don’t believe that money will be well spent, for something like that…Am I correct in saying that we were going sell each individual niche for $2,000 a piece? You’ll never get it. Not when they can buy a $375 grave and just bury them…It’s going to cost you $375 for a grave in the Munfordville City Cemetary, and it’s going to cost you $100-$150 to dig the hole.”

In speaking on the added cost of tombstones, Nunn added, “You can order them offline for $100 a piece. You can buy anything offline. You can buy caskets from Amazon. You’d be surprised. I just wanted to touch on that…Before you spend $80,000, I just feel like that money could be better spent.”

Nunn stated that a more feasible option that is gaining popularity is for families to purchase a headstone with a niche in it.

“The improvements that the City has made over there, everything looks real good over there,” Nunn added. “I just don’t think $80,000 for a columbarium is going to be a return on investment.”


New Business

The Council approved the first reading of Ordinance 06-022, amending Ordinance 02-022 establishing the annual and hourly salary ranges.


Due to confusion of the ordinances, the Munfordville City Council voted to repeal Article 5 of the Zoning Ordinances, which relates to sign regulation. For this current election, all fees will be returned to those who had already paid.

Mayor Comments 

“I’ve had several people question zoning ordinances about the signs being greater than three square feet,” said Council member Swift.

Gibson explained that those running for office were not asked to pay a fine, but instead a sign permit. He further explained that the City Council had voted on it, and that it wasn’t overseen by a zoning board. It was an adoption in the manual from the Kentucky League of Cities.

“I had a couple of people who were pretty irritated because they said it was encroaching on their freedom of speech…I’m just looking for the legality of it,” said Swift.

Gibson explained that signs cannot be in intersections, and that in the sign ordinance, it reads that for any sign larger than three square feet, it must have a permit. On private property, state ordinance reads that signs under three square feet can be placed, pending they have approval of the homeowner, and that they are six feet from the roadway.

“If you put a sign up that’s bigger than three square feet in the city limits, you have to have a permit,” said Gibson. “That came down from the state. They tell us to enforce it from the state. There were signs in these intersections, and the state sent me a letter that says we have to move them.”

“So, my question is, I don’t even want to hear the word intersection, because this is not a road intersection discussion,” began Atwell. “If this is something you have to enforce as a zoning officer, and on Section 5, 3.1E says temporary signage of three square foot, so looking through this ordinance, I didn’t see anywhere of a permit cost. With that question, according to the financial documents we were given tonight so far, only $200 (has been collected). That means two individuals have paid.”

It was later determined that Bob Miller paid for two signs, Kate Kenny paid for a sign, and according to Gibson, Tina Rutledge and Phillip Thompson also paid.

“So, you need to make a phone call tomorrow because somebody didn’t pay,” said Atwell.

There was discussion about measurements of signs around town, which included photos of signs.

“They’re three by three,” said Gibson. “That’s allowed.”

“No, that’s nine square feet,” corrected Atwell.” It says three square feet, which is one foot by three foot or 18×24. Three square feet.”

Regarding election signs, Kate Kenny reported that she had made signs for citizens who believed they were fully in compliance with the city ordinances, but ended up being large enough that permits were needed for each sign.

“It’s a mess, because being in the sign business, it affects me greatly,” said Kate Kenny, owner of Kenny Signs. “I have customers who have already purchased signs that exceed them sizes allowed. They didn’t know. I think personally if someone signs to run for election, the election person should hand them that information so they know. Some people have invested lots of money, and they can’t even put them up at all without getting spanked very hard, and they’re running for things in the city. They should be allowed to put their signs up.”

“Really, they’re not even supposed to have their signs up until October,” said Gibson.

Mayor Johnson called order.

“I had the floor earlier, and I don’t know where it went,” said Council member Atwell. “When I get done, I’ll tell you I’m done and y’all can speak.”

Atwell pointed out that businesses and individuals like Malti’s Closet, Bob Miller, and Sneed Logistics have all put up signs recently, and asked about that cost.

“I don’t go around looking for signs,” said Gibson.

“If you haven’t seen that sign (Sneed Logistics), I’d go get my eyes checked,” said Atwell. “No disrespect, but that’s a big sign.”

Gibson explained that he was under the impression that the City had allowed the signs.

“So are we picking and choosing?” asked Swift.

“If a sign goes up, then a permit should be issued,” said Atwell.  “My other concern is, when does it change from being a freestanding sign to a sign, if we’re charging a fee?…I hate seeing election signs everywhere. I hate seeing auction signs everywhere. Glasgow has made an ordinance that you can’t even put auction signs in intersections anymore because not only safety reasons, but because it makes everything look bad. Reading this, I don’t see the words free standing anywhere.”

The discussion then turned to real estate signs, and Gibson explained that realtors are exempt, but real estate signs cannot be placed in intersections.

Gibson also explained that the signs are not actually supposed to be placed until October 15th, which is stated in the city ordinance.

“You’d have to tell everybody to go around and take up their signs,” said Gibson. “And if they don’t do it, who’s going to do it? I’m not going to do it. I’m not code enforcement.”

“But this is a zoning ordinance,” said Atwell.

“But I’m not the code enforcer,” said Gibson. “All I do is tell them the law. That’s all I do. I don’t have any authority to do anything.”

“Why do we have a zoning person to start with?” asked Atwell.

“To give them the law,” said Gibson. “I’ve had so much headache with these signs. I’ve been fed up with it.”

Gibson later explained that he doesn’t enforce the laws, he simply informs people of them.

“I’m not interested in micromanaging anything,” said Swift. “So contingent on any state laws, I think that we should amend the sign regulation ordinance to exempt any political signs regardless of their size that are on private property.”

Shepperd had previously asked an attorney with the Kentucky League of Cities if the City could charge for signs on private property. There is no authority for the City to charge for signs on private property, as long as they have permission from the home owners and if it’s six feet off the roadway.

“If it’s bigger than three square feet, we’ve got a sign permit price for that,” said Gibson. “Now, if you don’t want to charge them, wipe off the books.”

Annie Swift repeated her suggested motion.

“I move that we amend the sign regulation ordinance to exempt any politics signs, regardless of their size, within the limitations of the state, that is on private property,” said Swift. “That is my motion.”

“You’re going to have signs going up everywhere,” said Gibson.

“They already are,” said Atwell.

“If we’re going to exempt them, you have to exempt them all,” said Gibson, claiming the council was picking and choosing in only making an exemption for political signs.

Atwell asked about the procedure regarding those in violation and the timeline they have to remove signs once contacted.

“I hadn’t ran into any problems yet,” said Gibson.

“I would say there are 100 signs in the city limits of Munfordville that are in violation, so we either have to say we’re not doing it or we’re going to exempt political signs,” said Atwell.

Harold Cottrell explained that regardless of the size and placement of the signs in the city limits, the October 15 timeline still stands.

“Every single political sign in this city at this time, is out of compliance,” said Cottrell. “What are you going to do about it?”

There was more discussion regarding the zoning regulations versus the code enforcement regulations.

City Attorney Matthew Roberts explained, “The reason we had the code enforcement board is that we would tell someone they violated an ordinance. We would send them a letter and say, ‘You’ve been fined for $100.’ Most people do the right thing. They either deal with it, or they come in and pay the fine. It’s the .1% that wouldn’t do anything. In order for us to have any teeth to do anything, we had to have the code enforcement board in order to make a finding that they violated an ordinance. Once we had that finding, then we could record it, place a lien on the property, and force the sale.”

Lemiux then asked if the problem with his neighbor’s carport would have fallen under code enforcement. It was deemed there was not a remedy at the time of the issue.

There was more discussion regarding the authority of a code enforcement board versus a zoning board.

Swift revisited her motion regarding political signs for a third time.

“It seems like whether we are or not, that we’re picking and choosing, not only how to enforce political signs, but signs in general,” said Shepperd. “My point is, it just seems like we are enforcing things for the sake of enforcing them, and there’s no real purpose to the enforcement. If we really want to clean up the sign problem, then we would follow those dates to the letter. So to me, if you listed the signs in order of annoyance, the thing that we’re letting go is the most annoying. The size of the sign is irreverent to me as a citizen. I don’t care whether it’s a 20×20 or a three square foot. It’s how long they are out, and where they are. There are signs in front of stop signs. There’s signs here. We could hire a task force. My point in all of this is saying, of all the things we could be enforcing as far as political signs, why we chose the size of the political signs to enforce, where that is the least offensive of all the sign issues…We cannot come up with a rational, articulate method for all signage tonight,” said Shepperd. “Annie’s got a great motion, and I think we need to sit down and hash this out. This is not a terrible thing. I think this is a good thing that we’re willing to grow and discuss, and we put something in place that may not have been a good thing to put in place. We’re willing to change and evaluate it. My opinion is that we’ve decided to let a third of this go and decided to enforce another third of it, that at this point we refund everybody their money and we call it done until after this election, and in January we revisit this whole sign issue and come up with something that works…I think at this point, we just drop back and punt.”

Swift pointed out that there is a possibility of a wet/dry vote on the upcoming ballot.

“People have the right to have signage, campaigning for or against that vote,” said Swift. “I think that we’re treading in a huge liability.”

“In my opinion, like I said earlier, we admit we have a problem we are going to address, but right now is not the time for selective enforcement,” said Shepperd. “Refund these people their money, and reevaluate it or rewrite it. If we’re not going to do that, we need a full staff to, so we either need to do it or don’t.”

There was discussion about what specifically is enforceable without a zoning board.

City Attorney Matthew Roberts suggested repealing the signing ordinance, and then the Council can later build it back the way they want it.

There was discussion about the cost of sign permit fees, as well as who will enforce it.

“We want to remove Article 5 of the zoning ordinance, and Kenny suggests we refund any payment for political signs for this current year,” clarified Swift.

Individuals and businesses will still have to abide by state and board of election regulations.

The motion carried. It will take two readings to pass.

Article 5’s Sign Regulations include the Intent (5.1), Scope (5.2), Exempt Signs (5.3), Permit Requirements (5.4), Nonconforming Signs (5.5), Illegal Signs (5.6), General Requirements (5.7), Permitted Signs Central Business District B-1 (5.8), Permitted Signs in B-2 and I-1 Zones (5.9), Manufactured Home Parks (5.10), Prohibited Signs in All Zones (5.11), Signs Requiring a Conditional Use Permit in All Zones (5.12), Signs Allowed with Conditional Uses (5.13), Advertising on Interstate Highways (5.14), Maintenance Standards (5.15), Penalties for Violation (5.16), Substitution Clause (5.17), and Definitions (5.18).

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