Commissioners turn down Hillbillies' casino sign

Douglas County Commissioners voted 3-2 Thursday to deny a 109-foot sign advertising Max Baer Jr.'s Beverly Hillbillies Mansion and Casino at the northern end of the county.

Chairman Kelly Kite and Jim Baushke voted in favor while commissioners Nancy McDermid, David Brady and Doug Johnson voted against the sign that has been debated a half dozen times.

When it looked like the board was going to uphold the planning commission's denial, casino project manager Don Smit asked commissioners to tell the applicants what they wanted.

"If you say reduce it by a certain percent, proportionately we'll squeeze it in every direction," Smit said.

Brady said the applicants had opportunity to work with county staff on the dimensions.

"I do not think this is the forum to negotiate," Brady said. "Our best planning practices cannot be subordinated to pure economics. I don't believe we owe the developer. We're not here to share in his risk of that project."

The sign has changed from a 200-foot oil derrick to a 109-foot tulip sign reminiscent of classic Beverly Hills street signs in keeping with the casino's "Beverly Hillbillies" television theme.

Baer played Jethro in the popular 1960s television show.

County staff recommended denying a request for a major variance because the sign failed to meet county code in two criteria: topography and public amenities.

The variance would have allowed a change in the county's maximum sign height of 30 feet to 109 feet and maximum sign square footage from 115 square feet to 2,423 square feet on each face of the sign.

The proposed casino is at the intersection of Topsy Lane and Highway 395.

"We are not harming anyone with this sign." Smit said. "We don't overlap the Sierra at any point."

Brady questioned whether the animated reader board would be dangerous for drivers.

"You've now put huge TV screens on the side of the road," Brady said. "It could be distracting to drivers."

Smit said a study by Vanderbilt University indicated such signage had not caused a single traffic accident if sized correctly. He said the signs would advertise what was going on at the casino and could be available to the public for Amber alerts.

David Semas, owner of Metalast, urged commissioners to approve the sign.

"It's the fiduciary responsibility of a developer to make their business a success," Semas said. "That sign may be the identifying landmark for entrance to this community. Having a $150 million project is a major, major investment in this community. I really believe the community owes it to the developer and itself to make sure this project is a success."

Kite said he supported the sign, believing, "It's not our purview to make sure the business makes a profit, but it's not our purview to make sure they can't."

Commissioner Nancy McDermid said there was a limit to how far a variance can go.

"I want the project to go forward, but I do not believe the sign is an identifier for Douglas County. I believe it's an identifier for the Beverly Hillbillies hotel. I believe there is some other signage that would not be beyond our code to the extent this one is."

The first phase of the project, for which zoning changes have been approved, would feature a 40,000-square-foot gaming area with 800 slot machines and 16 gaming tables, a movie complex and a five-story, 240-room hotel.


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