New Stockbridge committee to review sign regulations

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STOCKBRIDGE >> Although the town's compact business district is free of neon signs and banners, leaders aim to keep it that way by reviewing and possibly revamping current regulations.

With a goal of balancing the community's Rockwellian image with the needs of businesses and nonprofits, the recently formed Sign Committee will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Town Offices to brainstorm with the public.

Jack Spencer, the committee's founder and chairman, organized the six-member group last summer as suggested by the Select Board and the Planning Board.

The committee has been exploring the key question: Does the town's sign code need a major overhaul and if so, should that be done soon or as part of a potential zoning revamp?

Another approach, Spencer said, would be to tweak the current rules. "It's hard to always tell what's allowed and what's not," he noted. "We want to make it much clearer, by cleaning up what we already have."

The town's current bylaw is strict since it rules out neon, banners and most off-premises signs. Businesses at the entrances to the town are not allowed unless they are "grandfathered," Spencer said.

But merchants on Elm Street and in the Mews alleyway off Main Street may feel that they are overlooked by visitors, especially since cellphone reception is problematic. That makes it difficult or impossible for potential customers to look up businesses on their smartphones, Spencer said.

A possible solution would encourage patronage in those areas "without opening up a Pandora's box or creating a flood of sandwich boards," he said. Currently, the boards are allowed only in a small cluster off South Main Street, opposite the Red Lion Inn, to promote special events by nonprofits.

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"One issue is that in many ways the town is well-served by its Rockwell image," Spencer said. "But people differ on what that image is. You have to be realistic and realize that businesses and nonprofits need the public to know what they do and where they are."

As he acknowledged, "there's no groundswell of people who want to put up banners, neon signs or any of those things. But the businesses realize there needs to be a balance between the Rockwell image and the practical issues of signage."

"The difficulty is by solving problem A, you could create problem B, so you have to watch out for unintended consequences," said Spencer, who was on the town's Planning Board for 15 years and is currently on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The committee is advisory and does not have authority "to wander around town asking people to take signs down," as he put it.

Thursday's session in the Select Board Meeting is being held to gather suggestions from business owners and the general public. The Sign Committee will meet with the Select Board during next Monday's 7 p.m. meeting

Any written recommendation would need to be vetted by town counsel and presented to the Planning Board and the Select Board, Spencer said. If changes are recommended, voter approval at the annual town meeting in May would be necessary.

The Sign Committee members also include Robert Bartle of the Planning Board; Mark Wilson of the Trustees of Reservations, representing nonprofits; Michael Diaz, on behalf of the merchants, as well as Catherine Chester and Jonathan Geldert, citizens at large.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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