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Sign Committee asks to have ‘rules’ turned into ‘bylaws’


GROTON — Signs, signs everywhere are signs.

Such is the situation for the Sign Committee, whose volunteer members say they have too little authority and even less time to spend trying to enforce the town’s relatively weak regulations governing signs in Groton.

The problem, said Historic District Commission (HDC) Chairman Daniel Barton, is that the regulations lack the kind of teeth that only the town’s zoning enforcement officer can show. With building inspector Bentley Herget lacking any authority to enforce the non-bylaw rules, it is very difficult for Sign Committee members to do anything on their own about violations.

To resolve the problem, Sign Committee members will petition the Planning Board to incorporate the sign regulations into the town’s zoning bylaws. The move by the committee has received the support of the Board of Selectmen.

If the change is effected, fines could be charged with Herget authorized to enforce the new bylaws.

But with much of the signage in town concentrated in the downtown, which runs through the heart of the town’s historic district, the HDC will probably end up playing a role in any signage review process.

Asked if he thought there might be some conflict between his commission and the Planning Board, Barton said he did not think so, since the enforcement issues and procedures would be much clearer under the auspices of the building inspector.

Barton said he supported moving the sign regulations to zoning because it would improve the town’s ability to enforce the rules, while allowing an agency such as the Planning Board to look at signage issues “comprehensively.”

“Personally, I think the integration of the sign review process with regulation is a good idea,” said Barton. “The HDC has already been responsible for reviewing signage within the district for quite some time.”

Barton said that members of the HDC have always looked to the town’s existing sign regulations for guidance in making decisions on historic preservation and the aesthetic that is key to the integrity of the downtown area.

“That way, we’re able to look at the broader historical context of any application,” said Barton, adding that the Planning Board has actually made it a practice to look to the HDC for guidance on how to design signs effectively. “Any new project to be located within the historic district, I think, could be done on a collaborative basis between the HDC and the Planning Board.”

As an example of a sign appropriate for display within the town’s historic district, Barton suggested that of the Groton Market on Main Street, which he described as “creative and historically appropriate.”

“The HDC is very proud of what we have accomplished,” said Barton. “We’re in support of local businesses and appreciate those who have come in to talk with us; but signs, including temporary signage, require a permit.”

The town and local businesses could join in a collective effort to maintain the district’s historical character, Barton insisted, while at the same time making sure that commercial enterprises have the needed exposure — through appropriate signage — to keep customers coming through the door.

A case in point was that of Sarah Jean, who met with the HDC at its meeting last Tuesday night. She came to discuss the design for a new sign she wanted to erect in place of an existing placard.

Commission members worked with Jean, owner of the Well Being Accupuncture Center at 16 Hollis Street, to fashion an attractive sign that would catch the eye of customers while maintaining the area’s historical setting.

“It’s a perfectly nice sign,” declared Barton, after the discussion covered everything from size and shape to color and lettering.