FARMINGTON — A local man was ordered Tuesday in Franklin County Superior Court to remove a portable sign from his property.

Justice Michaela Murphy gave Joel Batzell until Jan. 24 to remove the sign at Thought Bridge, a nonprofit ministry, at 103 Bridge St. She also ordered him to pay legal fees incurred by the town.

The portable sign was erected without town approval or permit and is in the town right of way, Code Enforcement Officer Steve Kaiser said Thursday. The town took the case to court, claiming Batzell violated a consent agreement in which he promised to not put any new signage or use a second sign secured to the building, which is also his home. A larger sign was grandfathered in the consent agreement, Kaiser said.

The consent agreement, written and signed by Batzell in 2005, resulted from another violation of the sign ordinance, Kaiser told the court.

When Kaiser contacted Batzell about the portable sign, Batzell removed the lettering.

Batzell, representing himself, told the court he felt forced to sign the consent agreement because he couldn’t afford an attorney.

“I do not believe it should have gotten to that point,” he said.

The portable sign was intended to be temporary, he said, and he didn’t think he would need a permit for it. After removing the lettering, he contended it was no longer a sign.

“It used to be a sign when it had words on it,” he said.

Batzell described Thought Bridge as a ministry dedicated to helping others.

“I care about people and helping them,” he said.

He said he loved to “challenge the system” but didn’t know of anything he had done that hurt anyone.

“My charades have been entertaining the town for 30 years,” he said.

In 2009, town officials and the Office of the State Fire Marshal got involved when a woman fell through a hole in Batzell’s building. Everyone except him was ordered to stay out of it until improvements were made.

After reading the town sign ordinance and consent agreement, Murphy ruled the sign was in violation and ordered it be removed. If it’s not removed by Jan. 24, the town can remove it, she said.

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