SHIRLEY — Words of an old song came to mind — “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign…” when, at the Aug. 30 meeting, Selectman Andy Deveau sought to nip that sort of willy-nilly signage in the bud by turning a request to post a sign over to Building Commissioner/Zoning Enforcement Officer Donald “Butch” Farrar for disposition. Deveau said it’s Farrar’s job to ensure that signs put up in town comply with the rules.
For the next several minutes, the question became what those rules are and whether they should apply in this instance, in which Groton Junior Hockey, a nonprofit group that offers skating programs for local kids in the Groton-Dunstable, Ayer-Shirley regions, asked to place a sign outside the Hazen Memorial Library, as it did last year.
Deveau said he had called Farrar, as the sign regulator of record, to determine what the maximum size should be for such signs, where they can be posted and for how long. In this case, the request is to put up a 2-foot by 3-foot sign for 30 days.
His concern, Deveau said, was setting a precedent. Granting this request might open the door to businesses posting ads all over town, he said, noting that others who recently made similar requests — a dance studio and a gymnastics group — were turned down.
Administrative Assistant Kathi Rocco pointed out that the hockey sign was not in the same category and that it was posted on the Common green at the Municipal Complex in the past, where it would not obstruct anything. “It’s for the kids and the community,” she said.
Deveau conceded that applying the same rules to businesses and nonprofits was like comparing “apples to oranges,” but he still held that safe placement was at issue.
Chairman Kendra Dumont said that since the request is from a nonprofit, it should be granted, as long as Farrar agrees it’s safely placed, particularly since it’s been allowed in the past.
Talk turned to whether bylaws should be consulted for specifics. Selectman David Swain objected. “If we start opening this can of worms, a lot of nonprofits would be in trouble,” he said. A recent example would be St. Anthony Church, which posted signs for its annual bazaar in Whiteley Park without consulting the selectmen. The sign in question now would “typically be posted on Front Street,” he said.
The board agreed that a policy should be drafted so that, in future, the selectmen are not left out of the loop, nonprofit or not. But Deveau said its still up to Farrar to determine where signs are placed.
Deveau made a motion to grant the current request, subject to Farrar’s pick for placement.
But Swain declined to second the motion. “I disagree,” he said. “I’d specify the locale,” he said, citing Front Street, same as always.
Dumont, as chair, could not second the motion. She suggested a compromise. “How about if we just say as long as the sign is safe and well-maintained” it’s OK, wherever it’s placed, she said. “I don’t want to get into an argument over a sign for a nonprofit.”
Deveau brought up a bylaw provision that puts the signage issue in sight line versus intersection perspective. He stood by his motion, stating that he did not want to deny the sign, but also didn’t want to bypass Farrar’s authority to decide where it should go.
Swain and Dumont countered that while they didn’t disagree with Deveau on the safety issue, they didn’t want to trigger a full approval process.
Rocco suggested simply making the motion to approve posting the sign contingent on Farrar looking at the site and giving his OK. The board agreed. The vote was unanimous.