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Chattanooga City Hall

It's always been against the rules to hide zoning variance yard signs from public view. But the Chattanooga City Council is working to make it illegal.

The council is seeking to beef up and codify a few public notices rules held by the Regional Planning Agency and the city's Land Development Office.

Under the new proposed rules, people seeking a special exception permit or a zoning variance will have to post a sign in an "open an conspicuous manner," according to City Attorney Wade Hinton.

Signs will have to be visible from the nearest right-of-way for 15 consecutive days before a scheduled variance meeting. And the appropriate agency will notify all residents within 300 feet of the affected property.

In other business

In other business council members voted to:
* Pass a resolution to increase the contract for construction of Fire Station No. 11 by $26,500. The project had to be adjusted due to unstable soil. The total project will now cost $144,969.
* Accept half of the Oak Grove School playground property from Hamilton County for use as a public park.
* Agree to a $509,800 contract with Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon for professional services and improvements at the South Chickamauga Creek and Spring Creek pump stations. The project is part of the city's federal consent decree.

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Councilman Russell Gilbert said the notification rules need to be made into law to stop abuse by some residents and developers.

"Some [residents] were hiding the signs in windows, and putting them where you couldn't see the sign," Gilbert said. "We just wanted to make sure the community -- for or against a variance -- were informed and got their voices heard."

During discussion in an agenda session Tuesday, Councilwoman Carol Berz expressed concern about the entire special exception and variance process.

"We are delegating authority to a board to vary laws that we've put in place," Berz said to Gary Hilbert, the city's director of codes and inspection. "If knowing, intelligent people buy property after having studied the area ... help me understand how variance isn't nothing more than obviating the law we've put in place."

But Hilbert said the zoning appeals board has very limited power.

Residents can only get a zoning variance if something about the land's topography or shape prohibits them from following general zoning rules for the parcel.

In other action, the council unanimously agreed to let Public Art Chattanooga accept $200,000 in grant funding from the Benwood and Lyndhurst foundations to commission a giant mural on the side of the AT&T building at 300 E. M.L. King Blvd. and fund an artist apprenticeship program.

Peggy Townsend, city director of Public Art Chattanooga, said the mural would be a "bold anchor" for the area's revitalization. No city funds will go into funding the mural, and the city residents will determine what the painting will depict. Public meetings on the project will start next month.

The artist being contracted, Meg Saligman, will also be looking for help, Townsend said.

"This is a chance for our local arts community to get paid and learn some skills I don't think anyone else in the country has," she said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com, @glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.

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