SALEM – A bid by John Kufleitner to install what could have been the largest American flag in Ohio at his new dealership was shot down by the Salem Board of Zoning Appeals on Monday.
Mayor Jerry Wolford said he was surprised by the decision while Kufleitner said three times he was “blown away” by it.
“That caught me by surprise that it went in that direction,” Wolford said after the meeting.
Housing, Planning and Zoning Officer Pat Morrissey said, “I’m as surprised as he (Kufleitner) is.”
Kufleitner, who expects his $3.2 million Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership to be completed by December, requested a variance from the permitted height of 45 feet for a 130-foot flag pole.
The dealership is located at 400 Legacy Lane, just south of the state Route 45/U.S. Route 62 bypass, and accessible from North Ellsworth Avenue.
The board first denied a motion for a conditional use that the flag pole be situated so that if it fell, it would fall on the dealership property, a condition Kufleitner said he would have met.
The five-member board tied at 2-2 on that issue with Pietzrak casting the tie-breaker.
Board members John Panezott and Bob Merry each voted for the conditional use while Tim Baillie and new board member Harry Conn voted against it.
The variance request was denied with Baillie, Conn and Pietzrak against it.
During testimony, Kufleitner said the pole would actually be 143-feet long with 13 feet below ground and would be installed by professionals. He said the flag would be the largest in Ohio.
Chairman Mark Pietzrak said, “This is quite a flag pole” and Kufleitner said it would take three people to get the flag in the air.
He explained he had a 25- by 30-foot flag on a 60-foot
high pole at his Columbiana dealership that took two people put up.
The flag he wanted in Salem would be 30- by 60-feet, weighing hundreds of pounds.
Board member John Panezott asked its exact placement and Kufleitner said it would be in the center of the dealership facing the bypass.
Panezott asked about the surrounding property and if it fell, would it be on his property?
“If it falls to the south, east or west it’s our property,” Kufleitner said.
“If it falls north it can only fall on the bypass …”
Conn asked about the purpose and Kufleitner said, “It’s just what I want to do. My father was a military man.”
Conn asked about it as an advertisement and Kufleitner said it “won’t hurt us.”
Conn wondered if it would be a distraction and Kufleitner said he didn’t think so and Conn asked if the flags in front of the Perry Township and Salem government buildings weren’t big enough.
Kufleitner said, “I just want to go big …”
He explained that when he put up the flag at his Columbiana dealership “it was what I could afford” and Conn asked if approval was needed there and Kufleitner said, “No.”
Conn said, “If someone comes in later with a flag with a big hotdog should the board approve that?”
Kufleitner said it was up to the board and Conn asked if the flag was to “draw attention to your dealership?”
Kufleinter related a story about the Pentagon borrowing a flag from a business on I-95 and board member Tim Baillie wondered about notifying other communities because of the visual impact, especially Perry Township.
“As a good neighbor policy they should have been notified,” he said, adding, “I’m a little concerned about setting a precedent …”
He called flag pole an “extreme difference over the permitted height – nearly triple.”
Usually variance requests are for a few feet, he said.
“This is really extreme. I almost want to say go through the planning commission to change the regulation,” Baillie said, adding he was “very uncomfortable” with the request.
He recalled a large flag in Alliance and complaints about the noise from it saying the wind took it like a clipper ship and snapping it like a canon shot.
“I’ve heard where some of the flags snap in the wind and … boom.”
Panezott pointed to the drag strip noise but Baillie said, “It’s been there … this is a case of where we’re being asked to approve something new.”
Kufleitner said the dealership had already received approval for two 170-foot high wind turbines from the city zoning office “and FAA” and Pietzrak asked if he had any information on noise.
“No,” Kufleitner said, “It’s going to take an awful strong wind to snap it.”
Pietzrak asked if the meeting notice had been placed in the newspaper and Morrissey said “three papers were notified” and Pietzrak said it was a concern.”
Baillie said, “I’m talking about a letter to Perry Township” repeating his concern with the “visual impact” and wanting to be good neighbors.
“Just like we notify homeowners,” he said and Morrissey responded, “We normally don’t notify anyone outside the city … just inside the city.” He said the property was annexed and there is “no one nearby” and it is zoned commercial.
Conn said it wasn’t the city’s responsibility for notify anyone outside and Kufleitner said the pole will “sit on 54 acres I control … as far as a distraction, we’ve been approved for two turbines.”
Merry had no problem with flag “but where it lands when it falls,” he said adding the wind turbines have to “land on your property” if they fall.
Kufleitner pointed to the communication tower in front of city hall.
“This tower out here, where does it fall?” he asked, “the tower right outside this door.”
Merry repeated he had no problem with the flag.
“It it falls, I don’t want to be there,” he said, “if it comes down I want it to come down on your property.”
He moved for a conditional use based on that.
Kufleitner said it would be placed in the center of the dealership.
Conn asked, “If you put it up 45 feet, isn’t that enough?”
“Not for me.” Kufleitner said, “I feel it would be great for Salem.”
Panezott seconded the conditional use motion and the board voted it down.
“I’m blown away,” Kufleitner said, “I think it’s ridiculous … pathetic, I thought you guys would be happier than me.”
Pietzrak said, “The problem on a panel like this (is) you have to look at both sides …”
Kufleitner said it was a $25,000 project to start with, something he called “not a good business decision” after the meeting.
“I’m blown away. I really am,” he said.
Pietzrak said, “I think three times (higher than the permitted 45 feet) is a lot to comprehend.”
“It’s a rule setting,” Kufleitner said, “the closest home is probably 150 feet.”
Baillie said it would set a precedent that “would allow for almost anything to happen” and Kufleitner restated his 170-foot wind turbines were already approved.
“Not through this committee,” Baillie said and the board rejected the variance request.
“I’m blown away,” Kufleitner said and Conn called it “crass commercialism” saying Kufleitner was “asking to set a precedent that could be detrimental to Salem.”
Afterward Kufleitner thanked Panezott and Merry for their support.
Dave Arbogast Buick GMC Suzuki in Troy, just off Interstate 75, flies a 30- by 50-foot giant flag.
The Arbogast website says, “to our knowledge and research, it is the largest flag in Ohio.”
The flagpole stands 158 feet tall and the flag can can be seen from four miles away.
Flags have to be replaced on “an average of two-three times a month due to tearing and fading,” according to the Web site.
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