Changes to sign ordinance scrutinized
by Jack Deming
May 04, 2014 | 3995 views | 0 0 comments | 87 87 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WILMINGTON- Questions about the town’s sign ordinance dominated a public meeting held by the planning commission Monday, aimed at fielding public comment on the new zoning document.

The meeting focused on revisions made to Article IV, which covers signage; Article V, which covers administration; and Appendix I, which covers definitions. The majority of changes in definition were made to coincide with changes made to the sign portion of the ordinance, which included rules for registering and permitting signs, as well as the grandfathering of pre-existing signs.

The new draft of the zoning ordinance says that all signs previously permitted by the zoning administrator that are in compliance with previous regulations will be deemed automatically registered and will be grandfathered under this article. Signs erected previous to the town’s first sign ordinance that have not received a permit would need to be registered with the zoning administrator’s office within 90 days of notice in order for the town to keep better track of where signs are in town.

Development Review Board member Fred Houston said that some signs in town pre-exist the zoning bylaw for signage adopted in 1969, and may not have a permit at all. “If a sign was there before 1969, prior to any zoning, and it does not meet current guidelines, does it have to be registered even if it has been here since 1965?” asked Houston.

“It would have to be registered,” responded planning commission member Carolyn Palmer, “so that we have a registry of every sign in town.”

Planning commission chair Wendy Manners said that the purpose of the new bylaw was an attempt to increase the enforcement aspect of zoning. “Without thorough knowledge of what is out there, we can’t pursue enforcement.”

Manners said that there have been concerns about the enforcement of zoning rules in town as well as the lack of penalties for offenses.

Tom Consolino asked if the new bylaw would include language to make sure that approvals for sign designs are followed up on after they are granted. “If I got a sign approved with a certain makeup but I used the type of material I wanted to use, where in this would it catch up with me?” asked Consolino.

While Manners said that these types of violations are typically brought to a zoning administrator’s attention by complainants in the community, the planning commission also agreed that a new zoning administrator would be tasked with being active, and would include visiting locations in town to check on compliance. The commission also fielded opinions on the rates that owners of noncompliant signs would be charged daily, as well as the time period given to the owner to comply. The commission can recommend setting the rate as high as $200 per day. However, Paul Tonan told the commission he felt that would encourage a sign owner to simply not pay the fine, and a lower fine of $10 to $20 per day was more realistic.

Language in the administrative section sparked another conversation as the commission and the public looked at the conditions for obtaining a dimensional waiver from the DRB.

The bylaw draft reads: “The DRB may grant a waiver to a dimensional requirement, other than density, after considering the following criteria.” Consolino felt that the word “considering” provided too much leeway. “Are they considering the criteria below, or trying to beat the criteria?” asked Consolino.

“In the last bylaw, applicants had to meet all criteria,” said Palmer. “If someone doesn’t meet one criterion, the DRB still has the ability to grant a waiver.”

After discussion, the commission and the public came to a consensus that while it provides a looser framework by which the DRB will make its ruling, the word “assessing,” was more appropriate than “considering.”
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