Last summer, the Board of Selectmen, as well as Patch readers, were questioning the proliferation of signage, and complained that the many lawn signs, sandwich boards and other types of advertising were "uglifiying" the town. A poll in Northborough Patch resulted in 78 percent thinking Northborough had too many signs.
Then building inspector Bill Farnsworth cracked down on the businesses, and relied on the town's bylaws to get some of them removed. As anyone in Northborough knows, it has long been an issue.
Fred Lonardo, Northborough's relatively new buiding inspector, discussed the sign bylaws at the last Board of Selectmen meeting. In conjunction with the planning board, they are discussing ways to amend the current bylaws as they pertain to signs in town.
"Periodically we have enforcement issues," said Town Administrator John Coderre. "The bylaw itself is a significant document, but the piece everyone focuses on is the temporary signs—particularly the sandwich signs."
Coderre said when Lombardo started as building inspector, near the end of last year, he asked him and Town Planner Kathy Joubert to take a look at the bylaws and discuss ways to update them.
Joubert and Lombardo provided input to the planning board, and are together drafting an updated bylaw that will address concerns with real estate signs, open house signs, special event signs and permits for sandwich boards.
"The request really came from this board's interest in looking for the sign bylaw," said Coderre, "Before it went too far along, I wanted to bring it back to this body, who initiated the discussion."
The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on March 5 to discuss possible changes to the bylaw, and the board of selectmen has opted to submit a letter with its recommendations.
"I would support notifying the businesses," said Selectman Jeff Amberson. "I would also right now lean toward following the process with the planning board. They should be the ones to hold the hearing rather than us tring to recreate the wheel. I don’t see any reason to alter that process. I think we ought to be notifying the busineses, and getting it out to the general public. They are going to want to have input also."
Some board members raised issues regarding the time limit of signs, signs put on town property, and permitting.
"We should put the brakes on it now so we do have an opportunity to provide input," said Selectman Leslie Rutan. "The businesses are also welcome to write to us and we can collect those."
Lombardo said among the biggest changes to the proposed sign bylaws is the possibility of limited sandwich board signs only during business hours. "There was talk of eliminating sidewalk signs," said Lombardo, "but the Planning Board thought that was too dramatic."
Another major change that may make its way into the bylaw (if approved at Town Meeting) is a provision that any advertising signs must be placed on the property that is being advertised. Blake Street, Lombardo points out, is a big offender.
"If we added that into the bylaw," said Lombardo, "they couldn't randomly put signs at the end of the road that point down the road."
Language pertaining to town sponsored events is also included in the proposed bylaw, and there is discussion surrounding real estate signs, including "open house" signs.
"There are a lot of businesses in town and everyone wants to do well," said Rutan, "and I don't understand why realtors get a bye on that. A lot of people find it annoying that they, and no one else, can use town owned land to put sales information on."
"Realtors are already exempt," added Amberson. "When I first heard about this, I thought, 'Do I really care if they put it at the end of the street?' I've seen them at every intersection. But, where do you draw the line? After a certain point it becomes obnoxious. They are already allowed to advertise and put up a sign without any oversight."
Amberson, too, has been vocal about his opposition to signage being affixed to war memorials, including yard sale signs. He's personally removed at least two dozen at the Ellsworth Memorial.
"In the last few months," said Lombardo, "any signs that have been on the street, we have collected and brought them to the DPW. There has to be some enforcement."