Another Hillbillies sign shot down

Like shooting tin cans off a fence, Douglas County planning commissioners shot down another sign proposal for Max Baer Jr.'s Beverly Hillbillies Mansion and Casino.

On Tuesday, planning commissioners voted 5-2 to deny a major variance that would have increased the allowed maximum height of a highway-oriented freestanding sign from 30 to 90 feet and would have increased the allowed maximum area for a sign face from 115 square feet to 878 square feet.

Mike Olson and Bob Conner voted against the denial.

In a game of continually-shrinking signs, it was the third round for planning commissioners.

In 2007, they approved a zoning change for the multi-million dollar, 270,000-square-foot hotel/casino in north Douglas County; but with their approval came the denial of a variance for a 200-foot oil derrick with three sign faces and two animated reader boards.

That denial was appealed to the county commission, who rejected a 143-foot version of the oil derrick in January.

The second round involved a 109-foot tulip-shaped sign reminiscent of the Beverly Hills signs in Los Angeles. Planning commissioners nixed that sign in May, and the county commission upheld their decision in July.

The third proposal returned to the oil derrick design, a 90-foot version of the structure with two sign faces instead of three.

Planning commissioners, opining that the process was becoming repetitive, told project spokesman Don Smit that they wanted to see the casino built, but that Baer would have to compromise on the sign.

Baer played Jethro Bodine in the 1960s CBS television show, "The Beverly Hillbillies."

"Considerations for the sign seem centered around Jethro and Max Baer Jr.," said planning commissioner Mike Olson. "It sure would be nice if considerations changed from all about Max to what's best for Douglas County."

Olson said the sign would serve as a gateway landmark for the Valley.

"What is going to reflect the community, as well as bring people into the hotel and casino?" he said.

Smit said the return to the oil derrick was based on discussion with county staff, who preferred the light and airy design to a solid monument sign.

"We have tried so hard," Smit said. "We can't continually keep coming back either."

Douglas County Principal Planner Harmon Zuckerman acknowledged that a sign variance was appropriate for the project since the sign site is 20 feet below the level of Highway 395, and will be 35 feet below the finished grade of the proposed Riverwood Center adjacent to the property.

Zuckerman said ballpark guidelines were provided to the applicant without any guarantee of approval. Those guidelines included the oil-derrick design, which staff thought less visually obtrusive than the tulip, keeping the sign's height under 80 feet, and keeping the sign area of each face around 500 square feet.

"It's frustrating because the applicant knew what was going to get approved, but asked for more," said planning commissioner Lawrence Howell.

Smit showed pictures of billboards built on Indian land along the Highway 395 corridor. He said it's crucial to the viability of a business to be able to adequately advertise.

"I still don't want to minimize what we're after," said Smit. "This is an investment of $175 million."

Construction of the casino has not yet begun. Although Baer and company might have lost this round, they will likely appeal the planning commission's decision to county commissioners, who will ultimately decide if the third sign is a charm.


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