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Church loses digital sign case at Missouri Supreme Court

The Northland’s Antioch Community Church has lost an appeal against the Kansas City Board of Zoning Adjustment to place a digital sign in front of its church – a sign that has been there since 2010.

The case involved Antioch Community Church’s denial of a nonuse zoning variance for a digital sign that replaced the monument sign it had in front of its church for more than 60 years. The church asserted that it needed the sign because it was on a major thoroughfare and changing the letters on its old sign was difficult in poor weather.

The church also pointed out it gained several new members after it was installed. It also noted the display would provide several messages at once and therefore be safer for the roughly 14,000 motorists that travel Antioch Road and drive by the church.

While Antioch Community Church was bequeathed the $11,426 to pay for the sign and went ahead and purchased and placed it in 2010 without obtaining any permitting, according to court records, the board refused to allow the church to display the sign.

The church, however, did apply for a variance with the board after it was issued a citation for the digital sign for allegedly violating a section in the Kansas City Code. The church appealed the citation and then applied for a variance.

The board held a public hearing and refused Antioch Community Church’s request for the sign, based on its inability to “establish undue hardship or practical difficulty necessary for granting a variance,” according to the court opinion.

In the court opinion issued by Judge Laura Denvir Stith of the Missouri Supreme Court, the board’s policy was to only allow digital displays at an institution in a residential area that has at least 10 to 15 acres. The policy was enacted in 2015, but unfortunately, the church did not qualify under the ruling. While Antioch Road is heavily traveled and mostly commercial, the church is located within a mile-stretch of residentially zoned properties, where only monument-type signs are permitted, according to court documents.

The church originally won in the Clay County Circuit Court. Here, the court ruled in favor of the church and the board later filed its appeal. This brought the case to the Supreme Court of Missouri, which affirmed the board’s denial of a variance to Antioch Community Church as it does not meet the city’s policy for a variance and failed to show proof the denial was unconstitutional.

–From the St. Louis Law Record