Community Workshop on Sign Regulations - Oct 29th, 2018

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Held at the Ottoson Middle School cafeteria. Assistant Planning director Erin Zwirko led the meeting, with help from Economic Development Coordinator Ali Carter. There was a moderate turnout -- maybe a dozen and a half people, the majority being the set of folks who usually turn out to zoning workshops.

The goal of tonight's workshop is to inform residents about the sign regulations update, including changes to conform to Reed vs. Gilbert. DPCD intends to bring a warrant article to town meeting in spring 2019.

The town recodified its zoning bylaws in Feb 2018, but didn't completely address signs. Sign regulations are spread among the ZBL, the general bylaws, and Historic Commission bylaws; they required more effort than the Zoning Recodification Working Group was able to devote during the recodification.

The town is working with Lisa Wise Consulting (LWC) on the project. LWC is based in California, and have worked on sign bylaws all across the country, including a recent bylaw update in Portland, ME. Some of the issues that LWC identified are: content-based sign regulations, sign regulations are split between the ZBL and general bylaws, there are inconsistencies among districts, and there is no severability clause.

Goals for the new bylaw include: consistency with federal and state law, better organization of the bylaws, and better processes for sign review and permitting.

Reed v. Gilbert was a supreme court case that involved temporary sign regulations in the town of Gilbert, AZ. A church held sermons in different locations, and regularly put up temporary directional signs, so that churchgoers would know where the next service was. The church had several run-ins with Gilbert's sign enforcement department, and took the town to court over the sign regulations. The supreme court ruled that sign regulations must be content-neutral -- the regulations cannot be based on what the sign says.

The town is currently conducting stakeholder interviews. Items raised during the interviews include clarity of the bylaws, the need to streamline the permitting process, and the need for more flexibility.

After her opening presentation, Ms. Zwirko starts a discussion with attendees.

Should the town address LED signs, or signs that display changing graphics (like a monitor that displays video)? One attendee wanted to see this addressed.

An attendee complained about churches that put up lots of signs; the attendee felt they looked trashy.

There was an objection to temporary signs placed on public or private land. The attendee felt they were left up for too long. Particularly signs put up by landscapers.

An attendee asked if there were different rules for permanent and temporary signs. Ms. Zwirko said there could be. Banners would most likely be considered temporary signage.

An attendee felt the current regulations for permanent signs were good, with respect to the number and size of signs. Temporary sign regulations aren't as good.

Ms. Zwirko asked how people felt about sign illumination. An attendee expressed a preference for external illumination -- the felt that looked better. Some of the letters on internally-illuminated signs are too large.

Another attendee wanted to help businesses, by making signs less expensive to construct.

Ms. Zwirko asked about signs that were painted on to the side of the building. There were opposing responses. One attendee said they looked cheap and trashy. Another said "I like it", stating that painted-on signs have been a common feature of cities for a long time.

An attendee asked if the sign regulations would vary by zoning district. They could. One attendee expressed a desire for consistency across districts. Another felt that different districts deserved different regulations. Perhaps sign size could be regulated as a portion of building size.

There was a discussion about window signs. Is 25% coverage of the window too much? If there's a video monitor in the room, how close to the window does it have to be before the monitor is considered a sign?

An attendee asked about permanent signs where the message changes periodically. These are often used by churches.

The was a question about the regulation of light spillage. The attendee felt that light from an illuminated sign should not project beyond the property line. Perhaps we could regulate brightness based on the number of lumens.

There was a discussion about A-frame (sandwich board) signs, which are currently permitted by the Select Board. Several attendees felt there should be a clearance requirement (e.g., three or four feet of unobstructed sidewalk). One attendee felt it was unacceptable for businesses to put up the same sandwich board sign every day. Perhaps sandwich board sign permits should be renewed annually.