Proposed sign ordinance eases up on businesses

Proposed sign ordinance eases up on businesses

Electronic messages, sandwich boards would be allowed

CUMBERLAND - The currently illegal sandwich board-style signs, effectively banished by town inspectors in recent months, would be legally returned under a revised sign ordinance now before Town Council members who are indicating they will be "business friendly" as they prepare to ratify it.

Getting their first crack at the proposal last Wednesday, not only were several councilors calling for a less restrictive sign ordinance, but they were saying that Building Commissioner Neil Hall should ease up on what some described as "aggressive" enforcement of the current rules, especially the ban on the sandwich board or A-frame signs.

Local business owners filled the Town Council Chamber last Wednesday for an Ordinance subcommittee called specifically to review changes to a sign ordinance that have been talked about for a year.

The 40-minute discussion ended with Councilor Bill Murray's proposing a moratorium on enforcing current sign regulations.

"I suggest we back off our crusade and have a cooling off period," Murray said after listening to complaints about town officials.

And while Councilor Jeff Kearns cautioned, "a moratorium but not a blitzkrieg of I-can-do-whatever-I-want," subcommittee Chairman Manuel DaCosta earned loud applause when he concurred with Murray "for peace and harmony and because we're business-friendly."

The moratorium turned out to be short-lived.

Mayor Daniel McKee, on vacation in Florida, stepped in long distance and called off any period of leniency.

"No. We're going to enforce the sign ordinance until different rules are adopted," he later told The Breeze. "Look at all the progress that was being made," he said. "We will enforce whatever is on the books."

However, the business folks seem poised to prevail in the end because the revised ordinance under consideration contains a brand-new section on portable signs that allows the sandwich board or A-frames erected during business hours within five feet of the establishment. They may be up to 10 square feet with a maximum height of 5 feet. They must be "neat and orderly."

In addition to permitting these portable signs, the new ordinance for the first time allows:

* Electronic signs that change messages every 30 seconds.

* Internally lighted signs in major commercial areas. In reality, internally lighted signs can already be found everywhere but the new ordinance attempts to offer some geographical containment, Director of Planning Kelley Morris told the councilors.

* Yard sale signs on another's lawn, with that owner's permission.

* Canopy signs, which had been banned.

* Larger signs generally for businesses including wall, window and projecting signs.

Building Commissioner Neil Hall, who wasn't at the meeting, finds himself at odds with Morris over much of this.

Hall said the sandwich board signs will be difficult to monitor and are likely to creep closer and closer to sidewalks.

Additionally, he opposes the electronic signs.

"I'm not fond of the electronic signs," he said. "I don't like the look and I think the town looks good without them. This will open the door to Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence or Smithfield on Route 44."

Overall, he said he wonders how many of the business owners actually live in Cumberland and whether any residents will be speaking up as the council heads toward adopting the new ordinance.

"If people don't come forward and express their opinion, then the business community will drive this," Hall said.

No citizens attended last week's meeting. Councilor Scott Schmitt did wonder aloud, "We as a town have to decide if want to keep quaint rural character or not."

A possible second chance for input comes next Wednesday, Nov. 20, when the Ordinance subcommittee expects to meet again, according to Chairman DaCosta.

In the meantime, business owners were expected to meet and craft changes to the pending document.

Last Wednesday's freewheeling discussion saw Bill Kitsilis of Angelo's Palace Pizza serving as spokesman for the business owners.

Permitting electronic signs that flash a new message every 30 seconds may be the biggest change in the new sign ordinance, but the town's small businesses are saying that current enforcement on the ban on simple A-frames is hurting business.

Carl Amaral of Andrew's Bistro said his wine dinners are usually popular sellouts. This year, despite the Andrew's Bistro dominating plaza sign that sits at the street, he's without his sandwich board and blames slow ticket sales on town enforcement.

Also complaining was Geoff Mungeon, owner of Above and Beyond tree service. He said he relies on lawn signs of customers to advertise his business. In fact, 34 percent of sales come from neighbors seeing him at work in another yard.

Hall later told The Breeze he's fine with tradesmen posting signs while they're working at a house. He and his staff have been removing signs left for days after the work is completed, he said.


Signs signs everywhere a sign blocking the scenery breaking my mind . In the cover story photo I noticed that their were 4 signs for that restaurant. Bit much don't you think? Maybe they should try a different approach or a different menu.

The building commissioner "thinks the town looks good without them"? Thanks for your opinion, but residential tax payers would like a little help paying the bills from the business community!! This ANTI-BUSINESS policy is not going to attract new business, and probably will cause some established businesses to close. Nevermind the signs, how does the Cumberland Village plaza look EMPTY? I remember when Cumberland had no traffic lights (because there was no traffic!), when it was Ann & Hope and a bunch of farms...but that was then, and this is now! If the politicians keep pushing this ANTI-BUSINESS agenda, it'll be a bigger tax burden on the property owners as the businesses leave or close. I say, just let the businesses police themselves with a general guideline of mutual respect? Aren't there more important isssues to address, rather than legislating against ambitious businesses? Let the process take care of itself without putting ridiculous restrictions in place. Cumberland is no longer a quant and rural town, but it certainly is not going to turn into Apple Valley or Mineral Spring Ave!

While I don't love the extra signage, I can live with the sandwich boards IF 1 - they are removed during non-business hours and 2 - they do NOT obstruct drivers on the main roads or the parking lots from safely observing traffic activity.

I think the building commissioner and planning person should debate this at the next council meeting...seeing as they are at "odds". Let's see who has the best intel on the matter.

Electronic board messages that cry out for a driver's attention ought be summarily banned everywhere; they are as dangerous as cell phones and text messaging by vying for the human brain's finite CPU cycles that ought to be focused on the road and the 3000 pound vehicle being maneuvered thereupon. They should only be permitted where they are not visible from the main road, e.g., within an enclosed shopping mall.

It is a slippery slope to Central Falls. (Have you driven down Dexter Street lately?)

If the proposed new ordinance requires an A-frame sign to be within 5 feet of the establishment, I'm thinking it's kind of useless. Most of the A-frame signs I see around town are there because the business is hidden or set back enough that they can't be seen from the road, hence the reason for the sign. One of my "favorite" signs as a resident is that of Michael's Meats, if I missed the sale ad I can see if the daily special on the sign is something to draw me in.
I believe the signs should be tasteful, neat, and safe...secured if necessary or not placed out on windy days where they can blow and become a hazard. I don't think it's a big deal if they're near a sidewalk as long as they're safe and not obstructive.
I also agree electronic signs that change their message are a driving distraction, much more than a fixed message. And hasn't JA Appliance had an electronic sign since opening the new building?

Eliminate the peripheral clutter with electronic boards.

Eliminate the peripheral clutter with electronic boards. Static, florescent or Neon signs from the 1920s-50s technology are poised for the Digital Age! Many are eye sores to the business landscape and have ONE marquee message. They simply do not drive sales. Static menu and promotion boards are blunt communications instruments, while dynamic signage “electronic message boards” can be the sharpest instrument in the revenue achievement tool chest. They make people stop and are a call to action!
I advocate for the LED industry. Many communities that ease up on these regulations are finding economic stimulus. Clean high definition signs is my business and I put Advertising back in the hands of the Merchants.
I applaud the Town for working towards for stepping into the Future.
Jeanne Sullivan Evans,