Other towns watch as Newington grapples with signage issue

Published on Sunday, 12 March 2017 20:53
Written by Erica Schmitt

Staff Writer

Driving through Central Connecticut, you may not notice the differences in signage across town lines. To local business owners, however, signs are not only apparent, but crucial to their livelihood. But zoning officials in one area town are fed up with people violating sign regulations and are considering a ban on temporary signs altogether.

That could mean it would take a phone call or visit to your favorite mom-and-pop store to find out about promotions and sales, instead of seeing them posted outside when driving by. It also has some business owners worried that they may not be found at all, since without the usual directional signage their back-lot locations rely on, they could be undiscoverable to new customers.

Members of Newington’s Town Plan & Zoning Commission say the number of violations has risen significantly recently, posing a danger to drivers and impinging on neighboring property.

They are now reviewing a revised draft of the town’s zoning regulations and in the meantime have stopped issuing new permits for temporary signs. Newington Assistant Town Planner and zoning enforcement officer Mike D’Amato says the rules simply aren’t working. He presented the TPZ with a new draft last week, which the body will review before sending it onto the Capital Region Council of Governments for approval. A public hearing is tentatively planned for April 13.

“The TPZ historically has always struggled with temporary sign regulations,” D’Amato explained. “Many different commissions have had this same problem. In the past there have been sign sub-committees but they didn’t come up with anything anybody felt was a viable solution. They were essentially unsuccessful.”

Business owners fear the public hearing could be their last chance to reach a compromise with the commission and to hold onto their signage.

“Now that people are realizing this is really at risk I do anticipate a lot of business owners coming out to speak for themselves,” said Deanna Reney, owner of Karma’s Closet, a consignment boutique on the Berlin Turnpike.

Her shop is one of many set back from the busy state road and virtually invisible to drivers passing by. Those looking for the boutique often find themselves in the wrong plaza or making risky maneuvers, Reney pointed out.

“It gets super dangerous, especially with the high speed limit on the turnpike,” she said. “People looking down at their phones to find us might as well be texting and driving.”

This is where temporary signs with arrows or those advertising sales can prove beneficial.

“For small businesses trying to compete with larger businesses signs have always helped us,” Reney added. “We have a lot of nooks and crannies on the Berlin Turnpike and downtown. Personally I think there are a million ideas and ways to get creative about these regulations. I think the commission has been working on this for so long they just want to put it to bed, but in doing that it can greatly affect the business community.”

Before the freeze on temporary sign permits, the town allowed businesses to post these types of signs no more than 25 days a year. Dan Fisher, a member of the town’s Economic Development Commission, has joined the Newington Chamber of Commerce in advocating for more lenient regulations.

“I personally think the TPZ’s move to do away with all temporary signs is wrong and sends a very poor message to businesses in town as well as those looking to move into town,” Fisher said.

Newington would be the first in the area to impose such a strict ban on signage.

This becomes more obvious heading down the Berlin Turnpike. Crossing from Newington into Berlin, signs of all shapes and sizes begin popping up, advertising restaurant specials, job postings and store sales. This is indicative of the fact that Berlin has taken a lax approach to regulating signs. Permits are issued for a variety of different kinds - temporary, directional, free-standing, wall and projection. Window signs on businesses do not require a permit at all.

Most Central Connecticut towns vary in their policies, with just one commonality. Generally, up to two signs are permitted per company or group at any given time - one on the ground and another on a building. This excludes signs of a political nature, which are widely unregulated.

New Britain allows temporary signs in all business zones. A permit is only required for those standing longer than 30 days. The city issues a $100 fine to violators.

In Bristol, most signs pertaining to special events are allowed by permit for up to 30 days, with a five-day removal window. Establishments are allowed up to four per year.

Signs with flashing lights are prohibited and all signs must be at least five feet away from property lines. This poses a problem for some business owners, especially in the downtown area.

Ever since the New York Deli & Market opened at 259 Main St. about six months ago, manager Sam Nadeesh says he has faced opposition from the city and the neighborhood for posting visual advertisements outside his store.

“Some people called and complained about the flashing lights in the windows,” Nadeesh explained. “They just didn’t want it.”

He doesn’t think this is fair, because similar businesses in surrounding towns are allowed these types of devices.

“If you go to New Britain and Hartford they have these nice colors in the windows but in Bristol they don’t let us. At night nobody can see the business.”

New business enterprises in Plainville can obtain a permit for temporary grand opening banners one week prior to opening and leave them up for a week post-opening.

Nonprofit organizations are offered special provisions when it comes to advertising charitable events. These groups are allowed to post signs 30 days before an event and up to 15 days afterwards. Portable/temporary business signs other than these are prohibited.

How signage rules change in area towns down the road still remains to be seen. For now, all signs are pointing in different directions.

Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or eschmitt@centralctcommunications.com.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin, New Britain, Newington on Sunday, 12 March 2017 20:53. Updated: Sunday, 12 March 2017 20:56.