Proposed sign ordinance eases up on businesses
Proposed sign ordinance eases up on businesses
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.