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Izzy's Owner Says Business Has Signage Disadvantage in Ft. Wright

John Geisen, owner of Izzy’s restaurants in Greater Cincinnati, including his establishment at 1965 Highland Pike, asked Fort Wright City Council for its permission regarding his usage of lighting and signage Wednesday evening.

He felt the restaurant was not receiving enough attention from drivers coming down Highland Pike toward the Shoppes of Fort Wright complex and put up LED signage on the north side of the property to combat it. But unbeknownst to him at the time he “did not go through proper procedures and then we were asked to turn it off and take it down,” he said.

“It’s all about getting noticed and these guys got these big aerial signs which I know aren’t allowed where we are (the specific parcel of land on which his restaurant sits) but in order to compete…we have Burger King who has a great big aerial sign, Golden Corral, big sign. We have Frisch’s Big Boy, big sign, Wendy’s, Arby’s, U.D.F…all substantial signage down there to draw attention,” the owner added.

At the end of the day, he said, it is all about being noticed, especially since his restaurant is the first people see traveling down Highland.

Mayor Dave Hatter didn’t see any problem with what Geisen wants to do but expressed concerns with the agreement the city signed with neighboring retailer Walmart concerning surrounding businesses’ lighting. City Attorney Todd McMurtry said the Shoppes of Fort Wright design guidelines, which include Izzy’s, say “you’re not allowed to have exposed neon tubes, so if we were to change our design guidelines to allow exposed neon tubes, to a certain extent that would breach the agreement with Walmart.”

But there’s a big difference with exposed neon lights versus what his establishment has, Geisen rebutted. “This is not exposed, this is LED behind a red shield, so there is nothing exposed…When we put our front signage up, we had to put acrylic over the neon because you’re not allowed to have exposed neon,” pointing out it was passed by Kenton County.

“We can’t change the way in which PDS (Planning & Development Services of Kenton County) interprets this,” McMurtry said. "But they interpret it according to their own standards,” he added, bringing to light the gray area the city’s zoning agreement with PDS presents. While making changes to the agreement would likely solve the problem, council told Geisen it would likely take 3-4 months to implement the changes – much slower than he would prefer. McMurtry and Public Works Director Tim Maloney agreed that they would like to see the city’s pact with PDS explained in “black and white,” Maloney said, to reach a clearer interpretation of the rule to which Hatter agreed made the most sense. 

The mayor and council members were in agreement that they would like to get something done for Geisen and understand what he’s trying to do. “You look at all the buildings around and yours is the hardest to see,” Councilman Adam Feinauer said, referring to Izzy’s. “We should try to do something to help him out without breaching the contract (with Walmart). That’s my main concern: Not opening up the can of worms.” 

Other Notes

There will likely be new road striping on East Henry Clay, which will be further discussed at the next meeting on October 7, Hatter said. The Mayor also encouraged council to ponder the possibility of “Fort Wright” emblazoned on the side of the Kyles Lane overpass based upon a similar sign he had seen in Norwood. The idea would have to initially pass through the Kentucky Department of Transportation before council could make any decision, but it is not in the immediate future.

Written by Jason Finnell, RCN contributor