Lenox sign bylaw continues to stir strife

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LENOX -- The sandwich-board sign snafu that infuriated some local merchants last summer and sparked marching orders from the Select Board for a complete overhaul and simplification of the town's antiquated, Byzantine sign bylaw is set for an unwelcome replay this summer.

A six-month effort by the Planning Board to reach agreement on a streamlined concept with the Historic District Commission (HDC), which controls most sign regulations in town, appears to be on life support.

During a board meeting on Tuesday night, Chairman Joseph Kellogg buried his head in his hands when told that a just-concluded meeting of the HDC had failed to vote on a framework for a new sign bylaw to cover the downtown village.

Kellogg had hoped for an accord, setting the stage for a June special town meeting so residents could weigh in ahead of the summer season.

"I feel like we put a lot of work into this that may be for nothing," Kellogg said. "This is very frustrating."

He explained that a provision of a Planning Board draft proposal would have allowed one "substantial, sturdy" sandwich board per merchant by permit with "very rigid standards."

Citing irritation expressed by merchants, Kellogg said, "I didn't understand why, but now I know. We tried for six months to have a meeting with them [the HDC] to talk about it, and we can't get a quorum. I don't know what we do, but they're under the jurisdiction of the Selectmen."

"The Selectmen have been pushing us to deal with it so they don't have to," Kellogg said later. "It's back in their court and unfortunately, it's out of our hands, there's nothing we can do."

"This is going to hold businesses up, and it's gone on way too long," said Select Board candidate Edward Lane, attending the meeting along with a fellow candidate, Chann ing Gibson. "Businesses need to be able to make plans and do business in town."

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Despite two heavily attended town forums on the issue last October, HDC Chairman Jason Berger, appearing before the Planning Board after his meeting adjourned, said his members had voted to hold yet another information session for the public on Tuesday, May 15, at 5:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

Asked by Planning Board member Kate McNulty-Vaughan to explain the delay in setting up its public meeting, Berger said "the idea is for us to get public input on whether it makes sense to go forward. Depending on what we hear at that meeting, we'll decide whether to take the next step or not."

"We're in limbo," Kellogg responded, seeking clarity from Berger on whether the HDC would vote decisively to explore a sign-law revamp after the public meeting.

"We're committed to exploring it," Berger said. "I don't know that we can commit to anything else. It has to make sense that we're still maintaining the integrity of that bylaw to do it."

"If you get the turnout we got," Kellogg told Berger, "I think you'll hear it loud and clear. I would encourage the merchants to attend and reiterate what they told us so you can hear it directly as well."

"We've been working for six months a lot," he added. "So far as I'm concerned right now, it's in the trash. If it's not going anywhere, it was worthless for us. We proceeded assuming we had support of the HDC."

"I have no desire to go up against you on the Town Meeting floor, none whatsoever," Kellogg stressed. "There's too much conflict in this town already. We don't need to be fighting with another board."

McNulty-Vaughan expressed disappointment about the delay, citing "very disturbing incidents here in town where merchants felt they were being put on the spot by the enforcement actions that [Building Inspector] Bill Thornton was taking. There was tremendous pressure to fix all of those problems."

Upon direction of the Select Board last summer, Thornton issued violation notices to several business owners, along with fines of $50 for each incident, after Selectmen found scores of sandwich-board signs cluttering the village and posing potential liability concerns.


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