First Church gets approval on digital sign

By Scott Mahoney -

The intersection of Main and Lorain streets could look a little different soon.

On Feb. 1, the Oberlin planning commission approved plans or a new sign for the First Church in Oberlin, 106 North Main St. A permit for the sign was originally denied by the city’s building department, a decision First Church appealed to the planning commission.

The proposed sign will stand nearly 8.5 feet tall and will feature an electronic message board with changing messages, both of which played a part in why a permit for the sign was originally denied.

According to a letter from First Church to Carrie Handy, Oberlin’s director of planning and development, the permit application was denied for several reasons, including the city’s prohibition on flashing or moving lights, it exceeds the maximum square footage, it exceeds the maximum height, and the city’s prohibition of illuminated electronic message signs in residential neighborhoods.

“As you can see from our application, we’re trying to break all the rules at the same time,” pastor David Hill said with a laugh to the planning commission. “That actually wasn’t our intent. We think it’s critical to our mission and ministry of the church to not only raise our profile, but to communicate that mission and ministry in ways that both people in the community and those passing through the community can grasp it.”

Hill said he believes First Church also functions as a community gathering place, which makes the sign important.

“We are also very much aware that First Church functions as a quasi-community center for all of Oberlin and beyond,” he said. “There are significant events that happen there and folks are oftentimes confused as to which church is holding the event, or that First Church is even a church building.

“If you ask some, they might think we’re a museum or a college building.”

The sign will have a 33-inch tall brick base meant to match the church’s brick exterior. The top of the sign will be a white aluminum cabinet designed to look like the steeple of the church building, and which will light up at night.

In the center of the sign is a 25-by-63-inch message board that will be approximately 10 square feet.

The electronic message portion of the sign will be red lettering on a black background. Messages will change every 20 seconds.

“We’re doing mono, because we’re trying to be sensitive to the community,” Hill said. “Through talking with people in the community, we learned folks did not want signs that did explosions and splashes in multi-colors. We took that into account, so it’s not multi-color. It’s a monotone red on black.”

While Hill understands the church is located in a residential area, he feels that the sign shouldn’t bother any nearby residents.

“We recognize that we’re in a residential neighborhood, but when you think about that corner, directly south is Tappan Square,” he said. “Catty-corner from that is the Allen art museum. Across to the east is a park with benches and the Underground Railroad marker. There are some residences a little north of that, and directly north of the church is our own rental house.”

Hill said the next step will be to present the sign to the church’s congregation for approval.

Scott Mahoney can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @sm_mahoney on Twitter.

By Scott Mahoney