Look for sandwich boards and electronic messages as new sign ordinance takes effect in Cumberland

Look for sandwich boards and electronic messages as new sign ordinance takes effect in Cumberland

Sandwich board-type advertising signs, like these seen along Diamond Hill Road in Cumberland last year, will be allowed in town, with certain restrictions, under a new sign ordinance that received unanimous approval from the Town Council. (Valley Breeze file photo)

CUMBERLAND - After long debate in subcommittee hearings and twice by the Planning Board, Town Council members last month gave their unanimous approval to a revised ordinance that will allow signs around town to be larger and greater in number.

Members of the business community had rallied behind their spokesman, attorney Bill Kitsilis, whose family owns Angelo's Palace Pizza on Mendon Road, to overturn the ban on both A-frame portable signs and electronic signs, as well as win adjustments to the allowed size.

Outside of the business community, there were no objections to any of the revisions during workshop reviews, nor at the Town Council meeting.

Building Commissioner Neil Hall said last week his staff of two, George Dumont and Al Lamoureaux, was already out policing the town.

In particular, merchants are being told to move A-frame signs from the side of a street back to within five feet of their buildings, as the regulation calls for.

Although often spotted here and there, A-frame or sandwich board-style signs had been banned for years in Cumberland. Permitting them nearby store and restaurant doorways consumed much of the workshop debate last fall and early winter.

Town Council members accepted the new ordinance in February with little comment, although Councilor Bill Murray said the town was being too strict on the placement of the A-frames.

Business owners had lobbied hard to place them close to the roadway for highest visibility, but Planning and Community Development Director Kelly Morris prevailed by noting she didn't want to see a lineup of signs along Mendon Road, for example, where 13 businesses operate in the Seabra Plaza.

Councilor Murray asked if the ordinance could be later amended if a plan could be devised to restrict the number in that situation.

Morris noted the council may open discussion on an ordinance anytime it chooses.

Also new to the ordinance is permission for electronic signs, provided the message changes no faster than every 30 seconds and doesn't include any pictures or flashing designs.

The electric portion may be no larger than one half of the total sign area, or 24 square feet, whichever is less.

The first permit request for an electronic sign is coming from the School Department for the high school front lawn and has been on hold since August when the School Committee approved a design.

The school leaders face one more obstacle, however, because they propose a sign that's higher than the eight feet allowed. A Zoning Board of Review hearing will be needed for a variance, Hall said.

Other signs taller than eight feet around town were pre-existing uses, such as at Dave's, or approved with variances, such as Navigant and Pawtucket Credit Union, he said.

Another area of great debate was about signs in the more historic districts of Cumberland, such as Ashton and Berkeley. It was noted during deliberations that commercial structures in the accepted historic zones must be reviewed by the Cumberland Historic District Commission.

Approval by the Town Council was unanimous with Councilor Art Lambi expressing his hope that Cumberland would remain an attractive town.