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September 22. 2009 (Sign Workshop Special Meeting) Minutes
TOWN OF EAST WINDSOR
PLANNING AND ZONING COMMISSION

Special Meeting #1555 - September 22, 2009

DISCUSSION ON TEMPORARY BUSINESS SIGNS  


The Meeting was called to order at 6:40 p.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room, 11 Rye Street, Broad Brook, CT. by Chairman Ouellette

ESTABLISHMENT OF QUORUM:

A quorum was established as four Regular Members (Devanney, Gowdy, Ouellette, and Thurz), and two Alternate Members (Mulkern and O’Brien) were present.    Regular Members Farmer, and Alternate Member Matthews were absent.  In accordance with the rotation sequence established by the Commission Chairman Ouellette noted Alternate Commissioner O’Brien would sit in on items under discussion this evening.  

Also present was Town Planner Whitten.

Guests included:  Selectman Mark Simmons; Kathy Pippin, Board of Finance Alternate; and the following members of the audience:  Jim Richards, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce; Ginny Higley, Zoning Enforcement Officer, Town of Enfield; Brian, owner of Blimpies; Bonnie, owner of Good Mornings; Sharon and Tom Muska, owner of Applebrook Farm; and Paul Andersen and Bob Lyke, interested residents.

Chairman Ouellette noted the Meeting this evening will be a Workshop regarding Temporary Business Signs.   He indicated a preliminary Agenda for a Regular Meeting had been mailed to Commission Members; as the Agenda was inadvertently not posted within the required Statutory time limits there will be no discussion this evening about other Agenda items.

Chairman Ouellette noted the Planning and Zoning Commission was approached by the business owners to consider allowing temporary signage.  Town Planner Whitten acquired input from various surrounding towns and has created a draft regulation based on excerpts from the Towns of Simsbury, Tolland, and South Windsor.   Chairman Ouellette indicated that the purpose of this meeting is to solicit input from the public.  The Commission has made no decision regarding these regulations.

Chairman Ouellette opened discussion to the audience:

Bob Lyke, representing the Broad Brook Opera House:  questioned what the next step is after this meeting?  Town Planner Whitten described the procedure, noting that when the regulations are developed the Commission would hold another meeting like the one being held this evening.   The subsequent meeting wouldn’t be a public hearing but would be a meeting for discussion.   If the Commission decides to hold a Public Hearing the regulations would be referred to CRCOG (Capital Regional Conference of Governments) for a 30 day review period. After that time the Commission would hold a Public Hearing, and decide to adopt, or deny, the proposed temporary sign regulations.

Sharon Muska, 216 East Road, owner of Applebrook Farm:  cited concern with the proposal for temporary signs.   She and Tom sell only their own crop, and temporary for them would depend on the size of the crop.   Sometimes they sell from the Fall through January of the following year.  They presently have directional signs, which are extremely valuable to them.  They have eight “pathfinder” signs at various locations around town, and two State signs.  Mrs. Muska gave examples of customers having difficulty finding their farm location.  She felt the Commission needed to think of the farmer when applying the regulations.

Chairman Ouellette felt the proposed regulations being discussed tonight wouldn’t really apply to the farmer.   Many of the proposed regulations are related to business owners and the placement of signage on business owners properties, rather than rights-of-way.  Town Planner Whitten concurred, noting the farms will have their own regulations, which the Commission is also reviewing.   The NRPC (Natural Resources Preservation Commission) has been working on an agricultural viability grant and are currently working on farm regulations.  Farm signs are different.   The Commission is trying to make supporting businesses easier for the farmers, and the business owners.    The discussion this evening on business owners signage is a different regulation.   (Town Planner Whitten gave Mrs. Muska a draft of the farm regulations.)

Bob Lyke:  questioned if the signage for non-profit organizations, or political signs, have different regulations?  Chairman Ouellette suggested the focus of discussion this evening is strictly on business owners signage.  Town Planner Whitten indicated this proposed regulation is geared to businesses; the only signage they are presently allowed is a grand opening, or re-opening sign.   There is nothing currently in the Zoning Regulations which allows temporary signage.  If this regulation goes forward it would allow temporary signage 4 times a year; a banner or A-frame sign of specific size would be allowed.

Brian, of Broad Brook:  why wouldn’t people be allowed to use a logo - he presently owns a franchise, the logo is what people know them by - and why only black and/or red lettering?  Town Planner Whitten indicated hose specifics came from the Tolland regulations; black and read was noted as being the easiest to read.

Brian also felt 4 times a year was “light”; franchises typically run promos more frequently; he would rather have 6 times a year.   Chairman Ouellette suggested that in a unified retail center which rents to multiple tenants someone who runs signs 6 times a year could be blocking other tenants from posting signage.   Brian felt that with a franchise he knows when the promos will be run; he can apply in January for all the allowed signage.  

Brian also felt item #8 - all A-frame signs must be located 150’ away from another sign - is too restrictive.  He felt the same about item #12 - temporary signage must be located at 10’ from the property line and/or 20’ from the paved roadway.  The grassy knoll in front of his business isn’t 20’ wide; he didn’t know of too many other grassy knolls that were 20’ wide either.  Chairman Ouellette indicated the Commission can’t grant permission for signage on property not owned by the business.  Town Planner Whitten referenced Sophia’s Plaza on the Smartboard, noting the property line for the area in front of Friendly’s.  Chairman Ouellette noted the Commission doesn’t have jurisdiction on that distance; it’s a State right-of-way.  Jim Richards suggested those locations would be perfect for a banner.  Brian felt the businesses on Route 140 are out of luck.   Town Planner Whitten noted they can utilize banners.   Brian indicated he had been at that location 13 years and felt A-frame (signs) were valuable.   Chairman Ouellette and Town Planner Whitten indicated they would work with business owners to identify specifically where the property line is located.  

Bob Lyke:  questioned if the ZEO was the person to see that the signs are put up properly on Town property?   Town Planner Whitten indicated there are only 3 places considered Town property where non-profit signs can be posted.  Mr. Lyke questioned who polices the State area?   Chairman Ouellette indicated the State does; if the State is aware illegal signage is on their property they will come in and take the signs.

Paul Andersen:  felt the specific numbers in the proposed regulation won’t work, especially along the grassy strips along Route 140.  Whatever is put in the regulation is expected that everyone will comply with; he felt the specific numbers won’t work.  Town Planner Whitten indicated the numbers reflected in the proposed regulation are a reality now.  She again referenced a location on the Smartboard, indicated the 150’ separation distance, and noted where signs would be located.   Mr. Andersen specifically referenced the set back distances; he questioned if it didn’t present a hazard what difference did it make?  Town Planner Whitten indicated signs close to the road are a hazard.  Chairman Ouellette gave a hypothetical example of signage placement related to a lesser set back distance; he suggested such signage would be obstructive for a motorist.  Mr. Andersen suggested basing the regulations on a sightline.   Town Planner Whitten indicated if it obstructs a sightline it won’t be allowed.  Chairman Ouellette questioned if Mr. Andersen were suggesting a “field located” position for signage?  Mr. Andersen felt it was a hazard to plug in a number; 150’ is a problem because it doesn’t say in what direction.   If a sign were placed 150’ back then it isn’t a problem; he felt the reference should be linear.   Town Planner Whitten agreed, and revised the proposed regulation.  Brian, of Broad Brook, felt the aerial was 2 to 3 years old; Town Planner Whitten indicated the property lines haven’t changed in that time.  Brian felt signage wouldn’t be blocking anyone’s line of sight along the strip adjacent to Route 140.   Chairman Ouellette suggested the concern would be the line of sight for someone pulling out of the driveway.

Chairman Ouellette questioned Brian, of Broad Brook, if he would be receptive to field locations?  Brian suggested these proposed regulations don’t work for him; he doesn’t have 10’ from a knoll and he isn’t a farm.   Town Planner Whitten noted he has had banners before.  Brian suggested he had to take them down; Town Planner Whitten clarified that they weren’t allowed when he used the banners previously.

Brian:  questioned if any of the Commissioners own  business; he noted he didn’t know any of the Commissioners.   Commissioner Thurz indicated he was a business owner whose office is in his home; his business is more of a mobile business as he goes to job sites.

Brian noted that at the previous (morning) meeting a woman from Swedes cited concern that she couldn’t display additional signs during the holidays; he would ask the Commission to consider something for holidays - perhaps something specific from 12/1 to 12/24 to cater to holiday sales.   Chairman Ouellette clarified for the record that the meeting Brian was referring to was another forum; it wasn’t a PZC Meeting.   Chairman Ouellette suggested to be fair holiday signage should be expanded to other holidays, such as Valentine’s Day for florists, etc.  Brian cited the length of time he has been a business owner, and cited his history with signage, noting that enforcement was increased a few years ago.  He would hope for a medium to be able to stay in Town and support the tax base.  

Commissioner Gowdy cited one of the concerns for the Commission is enforcement.   The current ZEO has estimated that approximately 70% of her time is taken up by sign violations; if these regulations are adopted - because it now allows signage - one can assume there will be more violations.  Brian agreed there probably will be more (violations) but felt it was important to have signs.  

Jim Richards:  felt something the businesses don’t understand is there are regulations on the books, and some people got out of hand.   If the ZEO isn’t out enforcing the regulations then (he or) she should be fired; that’s her job.  There were a few people that chose to go that route, and you will still have a problem with that.  Mr. Richards felt the PZC has been gracious enough to entertain these regulations because they don’t have to implement them; because of the economy they are considering this proposal to help businesses.  Businesses must enforce themselves, or this regulation could be taken away.  This Board didn’t create this problem.   Mr. Richards indicated he felt the regulations were well written.  When you see 5 signs in a plaza - not 5 separate businesses but 5 signs for the same business, some painted like tag sale signs........  This problem didn’t start with the PZC sending out the ZEO.   Town Planner Whitten indicated staff must be fair and consistent.   Every time they cite someone that person points to another person so they are careful to be consistent with their enforcement.  

Town Planner Whitten:  understands why the businesses want signage 6 times a year but from a ZEO standpoint she didn’t feel staff will be able to keep up with 4 times a year as it is.  They are proposing the 4 times a year to try it and see how well it works.   With regard to holiday signs, there are a lot of holidays.   Columbus Day is coming up; is that a holiday with regard to sales?????

Bonnie, of Good Mornings:   has been in East Windsor 8 years and has had signs on the street since day one and she didn’t know she was in violation.  Since she was cited and took down her sign business has dropped 18%; she can only assume that’s due to the lack of signage because she isn’t doing anything different than she was a year ago.  She’s in a plaza (Warehouse Point Commons, Bridge Street) where they have a plaza sign with 8 slots for the various businesses, but has asked the landlord to do something different.  Her business is in a building that’s set back 300’ from the road; a banner would do her no good.  The grassy distance from the street to the sidewalk is 9’.  Jim Richards questioned if that plaza would qualify for a marquee sign?   Town Planner Whitten brought up the aerial for this location on the Smartboard and calculated that the distance from the building to the street is 135’ and the grassy area is 12’.  Chairman Ouellette indicated that an A-frame sign as allowed by the proposed regulation would be located in the parking lot; Town Planner Whitten noted that the signage in the grassy area are in the right-of-way.  

Commissioner O’Brien requested clarification of the Commission’s objective regarding this regulation.   Chairman Ouellette suggested the intention is maximum visibility with maximum safety.  Town Planner Whitten indicated that with regard to a private property the right-of-way is approximately 10’ in from the property line.   Commissioner O’Brien questioned if the signs could be located on the property line to get them closer to the road?   

Tom Muska, East Road:  cited recent headlines in the Journal Inquirer regarding unions trying to keep Pratt in the State, when he started working in the State United Technologies and the banking industry employed 2/3 of the people.   We really need to support small businesses; he doesn’t want to be privileged because he’s a farmer.

Bonnie, of Good Mornings:  questioned if the regulations could be geared towards types of plaza or business areas, and if someone could come out and designate a place where they could have a sign?  Chairman Ouellette noted the department doesn’t have the staff to field locate signage positions; that’s the reason the Commission would rather have people come in and apply for the permits.   Bonnie indicated she loves East Windsor and left United Technologies because she knew she wouldn’t have a job in a year.   She chose East Windsor; she’s a single Mom supporting 2 kids but this is making it difficult.

Bob Lyke:  questioned if there was an opportunity for an appeal?   Town Planner Whitten indicated anyone can seek a variance, even now, by going to the Zoning Board of Appeals on any zoning regulation, but they must prove a hardship.  

Sharon Muska:  requested that the Commission not forget about the holiday issue; she felt people take in a lot of money during the holidays.  She suggested maybe a 5 day holiday period.

Paul Andersen:  questioned that the applicant doesn’t have to come before the Board if the application is complete?   Chairman Ouellette replied affirmatively.   Mr. Andersen returned discussion to the number of signs in a unified retail center, and the 150’ separation distance.  He questioned why it made a difference how many were out there?   If a plaza has 8 businesses and only one puts out signs does it make a difference if they put out multiples?   Commissioner Gowdy cited the Commission’s concern that one business could come in and fill the calendar with their sign permits, which could eliminate the potential for other businesses.   The separation distance assists with multiple businesses promoting at the same time.  Commissioner O’Brien felt Sophia’s Plaza was unique; it’s like each side of the plaza is a different plaza.  He felt that plaza could have more signs.  Commissioner Gowdy noted one of the concerns that the Commission has is that they don’t want East Windsor looking like the Berlin Turnpike; we must be careful with the number and the consistency of presentation.  

Mr. Andersen referenced item #13, he questioned if the denial was for a calendar year or what; he felt it must be better defined.   Town Planner Whitten agreed, noting she has revised the regulation to reflect a “calendar year”.  

Mr. Andersen returned to the issue of one business putting out multiple signs.   He suggested we need to help the small business owner; would it mater that one person would put out a sign every day?   Town Planner Whitten indicated that all the other people in Town would complain; the regulations must be consistent for everyone.  Businesses can’t “buy” or “trade” sign slots from other businesses.  

Mr. Andersen felt the Commission would be making money if there is a permit fee.   Town Planner Whitten and Chairman Ouellette clarified that the Town will be losing money from the standpoint of administration costs from this regulation.

Bonnie, of Good Mornings:  referenced item #7 - unified retail centers containing 5 or less tenants shall have 1 temporary sign out at a time - she questioned who would be the tenant?   Town Planner Whitten suggested it was meant that if 2 different tenants wanted signs only one could be displayed at a time.  Bonnie felt if 2 signs would be allowed she’d put out the 2.  

Bob Lyke:  questioned if it was first come, first served for the 4 times a year for multiple tenants?  Town Planner Whitten replied affirmatively, noting that was the reason she has asked the tenants of unified plaza to work together.   That’s the way it was done in Simsbury, but she has been told that won’t happen here.  

Mr. Lyke referenced item #14 - regulation will be automatically repealed one year from the approval date unless the Commission agrees to extend - he liked that rather than rubber stamping an approval.   Commissioner Gowdy suggested that’s what the Commission does.   The fact that people are here tonight is because the Commission was concerned.  Town Planner Whitten suggested the year was noted because the Commission wants to see how the regulation works.  Chairman Ouellette suggested perhaps repealed was too harsh; Town Planner Whitten indicated it was actually a “sunset” clause.  If staff finds they spend too much time because people won’t comply repeal gives the Commission the opportunity to end the regulation.

Brian:   questioned where the regulation goes from here?  Chairman Ouellette reiterated the process mentioned earlier by Town Planner Whitten, including considering information heard tonight, reconsideration of the regulation language, the 30 day review by CRCOG, the local Public Hearing, and the consideration for adoption or denial by the PZC.  Brian questioned if this could happen for the coming holiday period?  Town Planner Whitten replied it could but staff and the Commission need to discuss this again prior to referral to CRCOG.  Brian was hopeful that the businesses could capitalize on this regulation for the next holiday season.  Chairman Ouellette was hopeful that the Commission can have another discussion regarding this regulation during its October meetings.   Discussion occurred briefly on some of the comments made this evening.

Jim Richards:  suggested that once this regulation is adopted Brian could go to the ZBA and ask for a variance on footage but must prove hardship.   Chairman Ouellette indicated he could do that now.  Town Planner Whitten noted the goal is to write regulations that don’t require people to go to the ZBA for variances.  

Commissioner O’Brien addressed a question to Brian - do you think, being in a large plaza, that the businesses can police yourselves and cut out a lot of the violations?   Brian felt some of this falls to the landlord.   Town Planner Whitten indicated the landlord must sign off on the permit application as well as the business owner.

ADJOURNMENT:

MOTION: To ADJOURN this Meeting at 8:07 p.m.

Gowdy moved/Devanney seconded/VOTE:  In Favor:  Unanimous



Respectfully submitted,
________________________________________________________________
Peg Hoffman, Recording Secretary, East Windsor Planning and Zoning Commission