Starbuck's mermaid is heading to court

Starbuck's mermaid is heading to court

SMITHFIELD - After swimming against the tide before the municipal Zoning Board, the embattled Starbucks mermaid is about to test the waters in Superior Court.

The coffee shop's landlord says it has decided to appeal the board's decision ordering removal of a sign on Putnam Pike bearing the mermaid image that serves as the Starbucks logo around the world.

The board has been wrangling for months with Linear Retail Properties, owner of the Commons shopping center opposite the Apple Valley Mall, over what it says is an oversized advertising sign, and not the smaller directional sign it approved on the busy highway directing the way to Starbucks' drive-up window.

The landlord disagrees, saying the sign as constructed was shown on original plans presented to the board, and that the town issued a building permit based on the plans.

Board Chairman George McKinnon disagrees, saying a review of records "makes it clear" that a much smaller sign was intended, the purpose of which was to route window traffic through the shopping center in the least dangerous way.

Linear's lawyer, Joseph Shekarchi, said this week that Putnam Pike, the town's primary business thoroughfare, is replete with signs, that the order for removal seems to target just one landowner, and that the sign as it stands was granted approval.

Bryan Furze, a Linear Retail vice president, confirmed this week that court challenge will be filed.

He termed the board's decision "disheartening," noting that his firm has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a largely vacant structure and attracted high-end tenants including Starbucks and the Siena Restaurant.

Furze said the five-foot sign, because it is large enough to be noticed by drivers as they approach the shopping center, has been effective in routing traffic directly to the service window.

According to lawyer Shekarchi, Linear spent $8,529 on the sign, and that to remove it and install a smaller one would cost another $5,000.

McKinnon has argued that aside from his belief the sign was never authorized, to allow it now would set a precedent for other businesses to seek the same treatment.