DEVENS — Sign requests topped the agenda for the June 26 Devens Enterprise Commission (DEC) meeting. Two were approved.
First, at 68 Barnum Road, Steve Kenney of NB Kenney was granted approval for a sign that could contain two tenants’ names — NB Kenney and Rofin-Baasel Inc.
“Once you get into the five to six (tenant name) range, you’re getting dicey” as to whether a sign would be big enough to read by passing motorists, said Commission Planner Neil Angus. “If you had four or five (tenant names), the font is so small that it’s really not legible from a distance and it doesn’t achieve its purpose.”
The size of the sign was compliant, but Chairman William Marshall explained “this is just a matter of adding a second tenant.”
Commissioner Christopher Lilly asked if the sign, once erected, could have a telephone number or other information in the second slot.
“Are we setting that kind of parameter here?” he asked.
“We can’t regulate content,” said Angus.
Kenney explained the 68 Barnum Road building was built with DEC approval conditioned on the maintenance of trees on the front lawn for “screening.”
“The trees are “doing a great job because you can’t see the building from the street” he said.
Another wrinkle — GPS devices don’t recognize “Devens” addresses because it’s not a municipality. The Devens Regional Enterprise Zone is the 4,400-acre enclave remaining after the 1996 decommissioning of the Fort Devens Army base. he land was sold to the state, which is leading the build-out and sale of land parcels.
“GPS doesn’t pick up 68 Barnum,” said Kenney, adding that a two-tenant, two-sided roadside sign along the roadside would help. “No one can see if I put them on the building without having a personal safety hazard.”
The sign is to be internally lit where only the letters would shine thorough the balance of the blacked-out sign.
“Everything else in compliance,” said Angus. “It’s just the multi-tenant issue.”
The second sign applicant was Julie Crowley of Mount Wachusett Community College for the school’s leased 27 Jackson Road location. Crowley spoke in support of Kenney’s sign request.
“They will never try to put more than three tenants on the sign because it won’t be legible” from the road, Crowley said. “That’s why I’m here. It wouldn’t be worth the time or effort. You’d never see the sign if you went with more than two (tenants).”
The commission voted unanimously, 7-0, to approve the sign waiver and Level 2 unified permit for NB Kenney. Later, the commission voted unanimously for the college’s request.
Mount Wachusett sought a building-mounted sign on its building, which is likewise located about 200 feet off the road. Not obscured by trees, Mount Wachusett contends with another conundrum: Visitors entering Devens from Route 2 frequently miss the ground-mounted entrance sign on the Mount Wachusett driveway because motorists are simultaneously navigating an incline.
“Mount Wachusett has been pushing for the sign…” started Angus.
“Ever since they moved into the building,” finished DEC Administrative Director Peter Lowitt. The landlord has now assented to the sign after initial misgivings.
The size of the sign prompted commission action.
“If this was 100 square feet, it would be done administratively through the director,” said Angus. The sign requested was 149 square feet.
Signs 50 percent larger in size require DEC approval, said Angus.
“Look at where the facility is,” said Lowitt. “Going up a hill at the top of the crest of the rise … shortly thereafter is the entrance with a ground-mounted sign. They’ve encountered students and first-time visitors driving past the entrance. They want it high enough on the building to spot it and be alerted to get over to the left to turn into that driveway.
Plus, added Lowitt, “Quite honestly, I’m sick getting calls from the Governor’s Office seeking a solution.”
The “scale and massing of this building” can easily accommodate the bumped-up size, said Angus. He said a 100-square-foot sign design looked lost on the building.
The sign will not be illuminated, and will be affixed to the building with fasteners for each letter of the school’s name and to affix the logo. The logo, however, is clashing with MassDevelopment’s color wheel.
As the state agency charged with overseeing the DREZ build out, MassDevelopment retains design control over building exteriors. The royal-blue and kelly-green logo clashes with the DREZ’s color palette, said MassDevelopment Senior VP for Real Estate Marketing and Sales Mika Brewer.
In a June 19 letter to the DEC, Brewer wrote the “colored Mount Wachusett Community College emblem is not consistent with the red brick building. MassDevelopment recommends the emblem be removed or recolored to be more in keeping with the building’s color.”
“They want a brick-colored sign over a brick-colored building?” pondered Commissioner Christopher Lilly.
Brewer also suggested the sign “include the words ‘Devens Campus’ to help differentiate Devens from MWCC’s other campuses.”
Marshall scratched his head.
“Since you’re on Devens looking at the building, doesn’t it in any way give you an indication that you’re looking at the Devens campus?” he asked.
No matter, said Lowitt, adding that MassDevelopment’s design control extends to building exteriors, but not signage.
“The guidelines exempt any say on signs,” said Lowitt. “If MassDevelopment has an issue, they can take it up with the property owner. But we recommend approval of the sign. It comports with our regulations.”
Commissioner John Oelfke asked if the DEC could require removal of the sign when the tenant leaves, as the commission has required of solar-farm applicants if and when they ever move to abandon their ground-mounted solar-panel arrays.
“Whose responsibility is it to make sure the sign comes down?” asked Oelfke
“That’s between the building owner and the tenant,” said Angus, adding that if a tenant were to leave, presumably the landlord would “want to get rid of it.”
Crowley assured the school is staying put, especially after installing $1 million worth of laboratories into the building. “The likelihood we were going to leave was five years ago.”
“So now you have people there? So you don’t need the sign?” joked Oelfke.
“You can’t even believe the calls we get on a weekly basis,” said Crowley. “Put 27 Jackson Road in a Garmin and you often end up in Ayer… We have incredible problems every year.”
It’s in part due to a Zip Code change, said Crowley.
Commissioner Armen Demerjian said the Army retained zip code 01433 for its remaining base acreage. The town of Ayer is 01432. Devens was assigned zip code 01434.
“During negotiations, there was no way we could get it (zip code 01433),” said Demerjian. “We went to 01434.”
Changing course, Kenney offered in defense of his fellow sign applicant, “I like the colors.” The board laughed.
Before the commission’s unanimous vote to approve the sign, Marshall commented about a glaring sign for a long-lost business. “Go down Interstate 495 to Route 109 in Hopkinton and Milford and look on the right at the brick building.”
The sign on the building reads “Home National Bank,” said Marshall. Marshall, who is president of North Middlesex Savings Bank, noted that Home National Bank “failed in 1992!”
“I was going to say,” said Commissioner James DeZutter. “I never heard of that bank.”