City, Fire Station investigating ownership of sign site

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette The site of a sign recently used by The Fire Station is seen on Sharon Avenue. The company voluntarily took the sign down after the city notified it of ordinance violations. The Fire Station and the city are researching the ownership of the site.

HOUGHTON — After the Fire Station removed its wayfinding sign on Sharon Avenue, the company and the city are continuing to investigate who owns the property on which the sign is located.

In December, the recreational marijuana company took down the bright red-and-yellow sign, which had attracted attention from residents. Fire Station leased the sign this fall, it said in a statement Tuesday. The frame remains for the sign itself, which had been used in the past to hold smaller signs advertising nearby businesses.

The Fire Station had violated six city ordinances with the sign, City Manager Eric Waara said Wednesday. After Wednesday’s council meeting, Waara said the violations included size and height, being off-premises and not applying for a permit. By taking up the full sign, it may also have violated the prohibition on billboards, Waara said.

In a statement Tuesday, The Fire Station said it had temporarily removed the sign as an act of good faith.

“Serving our neighbors and being a part of the communities where we operate is one of our top priorities,” shared Logan Stauber, co-CEO and owner of The Fire Station. “While we believe we have the right to rent space on a billboard in the location in question, we recognize that the sign itself raised some flags for the city and would like to give them the opportunity to explore those.”

In the statement, Stosh Wasik, the Fire Station’s co-CEO and owner, said he thought some of the controversy surrounding the sign was due to stigma surrounding recreational marijuana.

“It’s hard to know if this sign would’ve caused concern if it were a different kind of retailer,” he said.

Waara said the numerous violations were the issue, not the nature of the business. The previous signs had not violated the ordinance, he said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a pet store or Walmart, the minute something that massive happened, there’s an ordinance violation, and ‘OK, I think it’s time to take care of this,'” he said.

“We have to take care of this, because if we’re just going to let this go, what’s next?” he said. “If it would’ve been signed for a pet store, a daycare, anything, the sign and the way it was put up still violated a bunch of ordinances.”

While other signs in the city may not meet the ordinance requirements, they were either grandfathered in or had been approved for a variance after the owner went through the formal process, Councilor Mike Needham said.

“People start to assume that every sign that doesn’t adhere to the current sign ordinance must be a violation and has to be taken down,” he said. “That’s not the case. I’ve been doing this long enough to know there are a lot of exceptions along the way.”

Both the city and the Fire Station have hired an agent to search for the title work on the property. The city has found references to the sign in typewritten council minutes from 1983, but has not determined how the sign came to be there, Waara said.

In the Fire Station’s statement, Tony Ruiz, attorney for sign owners S&W Real Estate, asked why the sign should be taken down now after not having been an issue in the previous 30-plus years.

“The city is making money off these taxes, so why take it down now?” he said. “We are not convinced that this sign is not legally placed on this parcel, however we will work with the city and get to the bottom of it.”

Waara compared the situation to somebody caught speeding and complaining because they hadn’t been caught when speeding the day before. Nobody had seen a reason to investigate the site’s ownership “until something that egregious occurred,” Waara said. Now, he said, letting it go would lead “to more bad behavior down the road.”

“By and large, people don’t have a right to own city property,” Waara said. “They can lease it, but somebody show me a document where it’s being leased or something like that … they did things differently 40 years ago. But we’ll find what we can find and move forward from there.”


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