The Missouri Court of Appeals has ruled that the Kansas City, Missouri, Board of Adjustment abused its discretion in failing to grant a variance to Antioch Community Church (Church) to install digital components into its monument sign. The Church argued that absent the variance it had practical difficulty in communicating its message. In the alternative, the Church contended that the zoning code violated the First Amendment “by favoring less-protected commercial speech over more-protected non-commercial speech.” Under the code, schools and churches on lots 15 acres or more (or 10 acres or more if located on a major arterial road) are allowed to use digital signs. Because the Church’s lot was less than 10 acres, the code prohibited it from having a digital sign on its property.
The Church property is in a single-family residence zone next to commercial, urban residential, downtown, and industrial zones, all of which permit digital signs. The Church is located on Antioch Road, a four-land roadway with about 14,000 travelers each day. Since 1956, the Church has had a monument sign consisting of glass display cases surrounded by brick framework. The sign included messages and information about Church activities that were manually added using letters hung from cup hooks. In 2010, at a cost of $11,000, the Church installed a digital sign, which replaced the display case, but no changes were made to the brick surround. At this time, the Church was unaware that the Kansas City sign ordinance prohibited digital signs in residential zones (Section 88-445-06-A-4 of the code). Accordingly, the Church did not seek a variance before installing the digital sign component.