By Kelly Cernetich
HOLLIDAYSBURG - First United Methodist Church's plans to erect an LED sign have stalled, with several opponents saying it would mar the historic district.
Carol Stevens, one of five people who addressed Borough Council on the matter Thursday, said a "computer, electronically lit sign" would "defile the dignity and beauty of the church."
Stevens, a borough resident and founding member of its Historical Architectural Review Board, presented Borough Council President John Stultz with petitions containing 151 signatures opposing the sign.
Paul Plummer said one needed only to look at the electronic signs outside of Hollidaysburg Area Junior High School to see how much it would detract from the neighborhood.
"I hope you support HARB and reject the proposition," he said.
Others discussed the years of work needed to get the historic district added to the National Register of Historic Places and said an electronic sign goes against everything they worked to achieve.
"PCN wants to come to Hollidaysburg. There's a reason for that," said resident Marie Little, referring to a report given minutes before by Main Street Manager Jamie Baser announcing that Hollidaysburg was going to be highlighted as part of the Pennsylvania Cable Network's "Discover Main Street PA" series.
Borough Manager Mark Schroyer said HARB met April 4 to discuss the church's petition to be allowed to erect the electronic sign.
Although not a rule-making body, HARB recommended against allowing the sign and reported that the sign would not be in compliance with zoning regulations for the R2 residential-zoned area of the historic district.
Schroyer said the issues with the sign are how it would be illuminated and the way its messages would be displayed.
A sign like the one proposed by the church would not be allowed in an R2 district normally, he said, but that it was not for council members to decide.
"Council can't give a variance on their own ordinance," he said. "The Zoning Hearing Board would have purview in this matter."
The Zoning Hearing Board is an independent body made up of community members and guided by a separate solicitor to deal with zoning issues.
"Council has no jurisdiction over that board. Council cannot override their decisions," Schroyer said.
Church Business Manager Preston Ghaner said church members stand on both sides regarding the sign.
First United Methodist, he said, began in the 1780s, almost immediately after Hollidaysburg's founding.
"We don't want to offend the community. We started the community," he said.
Ghaner worked with a sign designer to come up with a look that resembled that of other churches in historic districts, like a church outside historic Williamsburg, he said.
The sign would have been 6 feet across and 4 feet high, and the only part that was going to change was that, in place of an internally lit fluorescent sign, it was going to be electronic and use colored lights.
The message could scroll or remain static, he said, and added that he could bend the design to comply with the community members' wishes or have the lights dim or shut off at a certain time.
The current sign can only be seen when driving out of the borough, he said, and some thought an electronic sign would better convey church messages to younger generations, for whom "all is electronic. ... If they don't see it in lights, they don't read it," he added.
Ghaner and church Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Reimer said they plan to discuss the next move with the congregation and get a consensus on what they should do.
Stultz said council members would not issue an opinion on the sign and leave it up to First United whether to go before the Zoning Hearing Board.
"I know this is an emotional issue," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.