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NEON SIGN OF THE TIMES CAUSES CACHE CONTROVERSY

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Cache County residents have drawn the battle lines over a new sign in Sardine Canyon.

The sign was put up along U.S. 89-91 in front of the Sherwood Hills resort early this month. The Weston family, owners of the resort, had carried on a long and tortuous courtship ritual with the County Council and Planning Commission for approval of the sign.The problem: The courtship had not yet ended when the sign went up. The Westons did not have a permit.

"I was upset by it because I knew they had not gotten zoning clearance," county executive Lynn Lemon said.

County officials had denied clearance because they, along with a lot of county residents, believed the 46-foot-high, three-tiered, neon-lighted sign ruined the rustic view of mountains and trees in Sardine Canyon. Sherwood Hills borders national forest land.

"The approval would hinge on the sign being more in keeping with the forest recreation area," said county zoning administrator Lorene Greenhalgh. "It was totally out of order. It is something that shouldn't have happened."

Present zoning ordinances prohibit lighted signs on county land.

"I have a job to do," Greenhalgh said. "They pay me to use this book that says we can't have lighted signs, and you and me and everyone else has to go by the book."

But the whole thing is more complicated than a simple zoning violation. A horde of Cache County residents have weighed in with their opinions - in public hearings, in letters to the editor of the local newspaper, the Herald Journal, in calls to county officials.

"I've spent a lot more time on this than I want to," Lemon said.

In September, when a public hearing was held on the matter, public sentiment was largely anti-sign, say authorities. More recently, however, the tide has turned more toward support of private property rights: Hey, it's the Westons' land, many people say. They should be able to do what they want.

"We did not do anything in that area to disgrace that canyon," said David Weston, general manager of the Weston motel business. "Yeah, (the sign) is different. It's not a tree sticking up in the air. (But) when you have the dollars we have invested in there, and more every day, you can't wait."

The Westons, who bought the resort last year, were anxious to get business going. Sherwood Hills comprises 900 acres of motel, restaurant and golf course set in pristine forest country. It's an ideal resort location. But in its 22-year life three owners have lost money and were forced to sell.

Business was moribund when the Westons took over, and one of the first things they wanted was a big, visible sign.

"We needed signage," Weston said. "Most people coming down there in the daylight can't see the resort, much less at night."

The previous resort sign had been erected of plywood and was illuminated by spotlights. Many people believe that sign was more attuned to its arboreal surroundings.

"There's an atmosphere there that we want to maintain," Weston said. "We don't want any big obstructions. But we do have a business to run."

When the sign went up, Lemon immediately sent the Westons a cease-and-desist letter, demanding that they tear the sign down. In the face of the Westons' pleas of hardship, however, county officials finally consented to simply covering the sign until a permit is issued.

But the Westons will probably end up tearing the sign down anyway. Authorities say the permit likely will cover only a much quieter version.

"It doesn't fit," Lemon said. "You're driving through Sardine Canyon and there is this sign. It doesn't really fit the context of the area."