Signage ordinance amendments approved

By Historic District Commission
Fri, 02/02/2018 - 8:45am

The Historic District Commission has amended portions of section 504 of the New Shoreham zoning ordinance pertaining to signage.

HDC Chair Bill Penn, who has made enforcement of signage a focus of his tenure as chairman, told The Block Island Times that, “The amendments will bring the zoning ordinance up to date and will address many of the problems with the existing ordinance.” 

Penn said the motivation for making the changes stemmed from “complaints from the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, and Island businesses.” Over the past several years, Penn, along with Building Official Marc Tillson, and the town’s clerks, have been tasked with enforcement and litigation associated with sign violators located in the historic district, some of whom were repeat offenders.

Penn made the motion to approve the final changes at the Commission’s Monday, Jan. 22 meeting, which was seconded by Mike Ballard, and unanimously approved by a 5-0 vote. After the approval, Penn said, “I move that we take this final draft document and send it to the Planning Board for their review, and the Town Council for their adoption.”

The changes to the ordinance were determined after deliberations during a number of Commission meetings. Chief among them is that a sign violator will now have 10 days, instead of 30, to remove a sign after a notice of violation has been issued by the Building Official. “It speeds up the process, so illegal signs can be removed during the summer season,” said Penn.

In response, Building Official Marc Tillson told The Times that, “The new amendment is another step by the Town to encourage compliance with our Historic District and Zoning Ordinances. I can now require compliance within ten days, but the property or business owner may appeal my decision to the Zoning Board. Every Notice of Violation issued by this office includes a notice of their right to appeal, and of the mandatory 20-day appeal period. Once the appeal is filed it automatically stays any further enforcement action by the Town until the appeal is heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals.”

“If an appeal is filed, the appeal is then placed on the next available Zoning agenda for hearing,” said Tillson. “As you know continuances are common, attorneys can’t make the hearing due to weather, no boats, no planes. Some violations may not be heard by the Zoning Board for 45-to-60 days. My violation notice also states that each day the violation continues beyond the date of the violation notice shall be deemed a separate and distinct violation, which means it is best to comply as soon as possible.”

Tillson said fines can amount to $500 per day for each violation, and that two unlawful sign violations amounts to $1,000 per day. “That adds up quickly,” he said.

Another notable amendment to the ordinance is that “neon in any form, which is visible from the exterior of a building, is prohibited.” It is also stipulated that lighting shall consist of “warm-white” bulbs, “shielded from direct view, and shall not be flashing or visually moving in a marquee fashion.”

Under alterations, or relocation of signs, the ordinance states that: “No sign, whether previously approved or considered a legal nonconforming use, shall be altered in any manner to include changes in graphics, font lettering, color, brackets or posts without obtaining a permit therefore, in compliance with this Ordinance.” 

Deleted from the ordinance are permanent signs “advertising a menu of available goods or services or the price of merchandise or services,” while the amended ordinance notes that the use of commercial flags, banners, tents, and umbrellas, that display a word, symbol or design(s) are prohibited.

The ordinance allows for “window signs that do not cover more than 10 percent of the total window space,” and “one non-illuminated sign which shall not exceed four square feet in area, and which shall be located no closer than 10 feet from the property line.” It also allows for “temporary banners promoting community events, provided that they are not displayed 10 days prior to” such an event, and “are removed within two days following the event, and are temporarily affixed to a permanent structure.”

As for flags, the revisions note that, “Flags that name the local business establishment on which it is located, are limited to one word that generally describes the products or services on site, or that identify the establishment as open. A maximum of two flags is permitted per business. Individual flags shall not exceed fifteen square feet in area, or five square feet in length, and shall only be visible during the hours of operation of the business.”

The next HDC meeting is Feb. 26 at 7 p.m.