Saturday May 26, 2012

LENOX -- Responding to protests from disgruntled downtown merchants seeking to display sidewalk sandwich-board signs to entice customers, the Select Board has revamped the town’s sign bylaw -- temporarily.

"We’ll be running wild this weekend," several selectmen agreed, since a free-for-all will be allowed just for the three-day holiday.

As explained by Town Manager Gregory Federspiel at Wednesday night’s meeting, the existing town bylaw allows permits to be granted for sandwich boards in the public right-of-way on town land.

But the separate zoning bylaw does not allow such signs on private property, except through temporary two-week permits that may be granted by the Select Board.

The Select Board voted for "blanket approval" this weekend only for the town-land signage, but for the future, interested merchants could seek permits at a special Select Board meeting on Wednesday, May 30, at 7 p.m.

Applications at Town Hall are requested by this Tuesday for the special meeting. Additional requ ests will be reviewed at future meetings beginning June 6.

For the upcoming three-day holiday, signs will be permitted townwide, not just in the historic district. Any signs also will require a four-foot sidewalk corridor for safe public passage.

"Here we are, it’s May, and we have a responsibility to the businesses to help them be as successful as they possibly can," said Selectman David Roche, who owns Aspinwall Equestrian Center. He called for a short-term solution until a permanent bylaw can be written and adopted by town meeting voters. "Our current bylaw is archaic and outdated," he added.

"I say, we do whatever it takes to get sandwich boards up and running as soon as possible," said Selectman John McNinch, owner of the Olde Heritage Tavern. "This is going to be a big weekend in town, with a huge running race. If it’s going to help businesses do better, this board should do anything it can to make it work."

Selectman Edward Lane described the plan as a "try-out so we can learn from mistakes." He also advocated a Planning Board proposal to keep the experiment going through the rest of the calendar year.

"This summer will have to be an extraordinary situation where we step in and take over," said Selectman Chann ing Gibson, noting the Plann ing Board’s "disappointment" at not having been able to complete a total revamp of the law.

"We’ll know a bad sign when we see it," said Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler during a discussion of sizes, materials and other signage details.

"If there’s something God-awful out there, we can always rescind the permit," McNinch noted.

Beyond this weekend, a set of guidelines approved by the Select Board will govern future approval of permits.

The guidelines require a sign to be displayed in front of a building, limited to 2.3 feet by 3.5 feet, "aesthetically pleasing" and requiring substantial material.

Obstructions to pedestrian traffic would be barred, as would "sharp protrusions or corners that could cause inadvertently cause injury" and $1 million per claim in liability insurance ($2 million per incident) would be required by the business owner, backed by the town.

"This is a trial-and-error period, we’ve got to learn," Roche said, addressing merchants in the Town Hall audience."Bear with us, there’s going to be some changes, but we’re doing the best we can to get this out on a timely basis so that you can compete. It may not be perfect, it’s the best we can do."

"We never get perfection," added Fowler.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6247.