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Time of the Signs: New Bylaws for Northborough?

Northborough explores the idea of updating the bylaws as it relates to signage in town.

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."

 

The Doggie Den February 19, 2013 at 11:12 PM
As a Northborough business owner, I will attend the Planning Board hearing and I urge other business owners to do the same. At the same time it needs to known WHY Blake St, us a "big offender". There is no legitimate way to advertise the businesses on Blake Street or even indicate that they're there. The east side of Blake Street is for all intents and purposes a hidden retail mall, if you consider Mama's Pizza, The Doggie Den, and add in the bowling alley on the other side of the street. I'm a long time resident and gladly serve on a town committee, but it should be clear to non-business residents: Northboro is notoriously hostile to business. Shrewsbury and Westboro are much more evolved in terms of understanding the role that prosperous small businesses play in a healthy community. INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF SIGNAGE ALLOWED ON COMMERCIALLY ZONED BUILDINGS and most of the "informal sign problem" will go away. The town must also make it possible for Blake Street business to indicate that we are there!! That means a route 20 presence.
The Doggie Den February 19, 2013 at 11:46 PM
Also, let's life the "informal sign" restrictions during construction on Main Street this summer. Anything else is just "we don't care" to struggling businesses.
Ron Goodenow February 20, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Having been involved in the very welcome sign cleanup I want to say that we cannot regress with sandwich signs now permitted out on Rt. 20 for businesses that have chosen to be off the main drag. Lets think creatively about kiosks, or other means that be uniform across town. Perhaps a 'Blake Street Business Association' (sorry, if there is one I don't know of it) can raise funds for a kiosk, better web presence, etc. The center of the town is an utter aesthetic disaster zone as it is, and drivers, confused by new lights, how to get to those businesses etc. don't need to be further distracted. In Westborough, where I spend a lot of time, off main street businesses do not get signage rights off property. Lets take this opportunity to think ahead and try to meet multiple needs of attractiveness, business and some long term planning. I applaud some of our selectmen for showing some foresight and think we should support them
Tree Hugger February 20, 2013 at 04:03 PM
"chosen to be off the main drag". The main drag is a finite concept, with a beginning and an end. Not every business can be on said main drag, or none of us would ever get past the choke point that is Downtown Northborough. I'm not saying its easy to get through now, but your "they should have thought about this earlier" attitude is exactly what DD is speaking about when they criticize the town's attitude towards small business. As a resident and taxpayer, I welcome small businesses in Northborough. Not only is their convenience and choice of goods and services offered, we all also benefit when the town's tax base is expanded, allowing for increased revenue, thus helping to minimize the burden on residents to ensure the continuation of town services we've come to expect. I don't see why a bylaw can't be enacted setting some guidelines for signage along the Main Street Corridor...
PREDATOR February 20, 2013 at 04:07 PM
Enacted AND Enforced......a two part solution. One means nothing without the other.
Postman February 20, 2013 at 07:32 PM
Yeah, the signs are a problem. Sure. How about the ugly scaffolding or the ridiculous amount of new lights and poles? Want to get rid of signs? Start with all the new "No Turn On Red" signs that are completely unnecessary. Those signs alone have ruined any progress the new 200 lights supposedly gave us. Is it better for downtown businesses that I (and many others) avoid it at all costs now? Nice job Northborough/State.
PREDATOR February 21, 2013 at 12:33 PM
Exactly. NH is a much nicer place to shop anyway. Fewer restrictions on what you can buy, it seems NH believes it's residents are more intelligent and can handle choice without government intervention than MA does, and of course.....tax free.
Tree Hugger February 21, 2013 at 01:51 PM
MA residents get what they vote for. One party over regulates, one doesn't. Stop voting strictly for diversity. Don't just vote against the white guy to prove a point. Don't just vote for the "Native American" **snicker** to show we're more "diverse" here, and surely...don't vote for any of them and then have the audacity to complain when you're not allowed to buy sugary drinks, bottled water, AND your gas hits $5/gallon......

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