Stockbridge Planning Board backs update of town sign regulations


STOCKBRIDGE — The Planning Board has endorsed a revamp of the town's sign regulations for action by annual town meeting voters on May 16.

At a formal public hearing this week attended by four board members — three others had resigned in the past two weeks — the zoning bylaw revisions were detailed by Jack Spencer, a former zoning board member, and attorney Catherine Chester. Both are members of the committee appointed by the Select Board two years ago to tackle the bylaw overhaul.

The committee's eighth draft of the revised bylaws, updated from a previous version presented to the Select Board and the town counsel in January, redirects certain decisions and authority to the Select Board rather than the Planning Board, Chester said, citing state law requirements.

"In the previous draft, almost all of the permitting power was given to the Planning Board, with the exception of temporary signs," she pointed out. "This draft claws back some of the authority for anything that involves signs on public ways or overhanging signs."

"We probably spent a lot of time debating things, looking at things and then not changing them," Spencer said. "The vast majority is not that much different. but people can now look at it and understand it."

Size requirements for signs remain the same for the business district; banners across streets, billboards and neon signs are still not allowed.

"This is an experiment, how will it work I'm not sure, but I think it's flexible enough," Spencer said. "Only if the citizens and the boards of the town buy into what is being done will it be successful."

The Planning Board was given complete jurisdiction over most permanent signs, Spencer pointed out, similar to policies in towns statewide. "The selectmen were quite willing to give up their power in that area," he said. Temporary signs remain the responsibility of the Select Board.

The biggest change affects sandwich board signs, Spencer said, which are now classified as temporary for nonprofit organizations.

A new provision requires that violators of the sign bylaws cannot get annual application renewals from the Select Board. Spencer also noted that two business directory signs will be allowed downtown.

Planning Board member Eugene Talbot said that he is "very impressed" by the revised bylaws, and member Donald Chabon agreed that "it looks good."

"This group has produced a very credible revision to the bylaws, which was sorely needed," Selectman Stephen Shatz said. "You've struck a very nice balance between the aesthetic issues and the needs of the business community, a most non-ideological approach to sign revisions."

The Planning Board also got its first look at proposals to change adaptive re-use or rehabilitation bylaws affecting the town's four remaining Cottage Era Estates — the former De Sisto School property, Southmayd Farm on Glendale Middle Road, the Ingleside estate on the same road, and the Marian Fathers on Eden Hill. The fifth estate, Elm Court, is the site of a town-approved 112-room resort project awaiting a Land Court ruling on an appeal filed by a group of neighbors.

The proposed bylaw revisions are preliminary, Shatz said, and will not be submitted to voters at a town meeting until next year. "This is the beginning of a discussion," he said.

Among the proposals is a restriction on the density of potential development at Cottage Era sites that include various forms of land conservation and protection.

For example, a 300-acre parcel in a two-acre residential zone such as the long-shuttered De Sisto School off Route 183 includes 200 acres that are restricted from development, limiting the number of housing units to 50 on the remaining 100 buildable acres.

"It would be a concern if De Sisto were to be developed; it's two-acre zoning, it's 300 acres and 150 units on the developable acreage would be an impact I don't think anybody would like," Shatz commented. But the posting of the Planning Board meeting notice would prevent that level of large-scale development, he noted.

Another potential change would require that 10 percent of the units proposed for subdivision development on a Cottage Era site be reserved for affordable housing, although those units could be built elsewhere in town.

"We believe that it is incumbent upon those who receive the special benefits of a bylaw like this to give something back," Shatz said. "That's why the affordable housing component is in there."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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