Business owners buck Guilford’s sign regulation revisions

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Aug. 27, 2008

GUILFORD — A plan to revise the town’s sign regulations that has raised concerns among some business owners will be tabled for further study and changes, the Planning and Zoning Commission said this week.

The draft rules would have limited the amount of window space businesses could cover with signs and require them to switch off many lighted signs at night.

Chairwoman Shirley Girioni said the proposals, along with new rules for temporary signs, will be further scrutinized in coming months.

A public hearing Monday was the third on the topic this summer. A Sign Review Committee and town staff have been working to revise the current sign regulations for more than two years.

Several business owners said at the hearing that they think the town should be supporting local businesses in a time of economic hardship. In particular, they worried that the proposed regulations — especially the rules for lighted signs and the elimination of many temporary signs — would make it more difficult for customers to locate their businesses.

One of the draft rules would require that shopping plazas replace freestanding temporary signs with a permanently affixed holder. Dale Lehman, the executive director of the Guilford Chamber of Commerce, suggested that the commission implement a “phase-out” process for the temporary signs.

“I think a lot of the fear with the tenants of these plazas is that it’s going to be all or nothing, and they’re going to have to wait until the landlords build the permanent temporary-sign holders,” Lehman said.

Randy Kaoud, the owner of Kaoud Brothers Oriental Rugs on Route 1, said he thinks a distinction should be made between the commercialized thoroughfare and other areas of town.

“I see separate and distinct trading areas,” he said. “The Post Road is a tax workhorse for the town, and we can’t see the logic of shutting the lights partially when other signs will stay on sometimes all night.”

Tony Fappiano, a Guilford real estate agent, said he disagrees with the draft provisions that would regulate signage inside of stores that can be seen from the street.

“This really becomes an infringement on the ability of the tenant who’s paying rent in the space to use all the space,” he said.

No one in the audience at the hearing spoke in favor of the regulations, but Girioni read two letters into the record expressing support, one from a town resident, and one from the Guilford Preservation Alliance.

Girioni and other commissioners said that one of the main questions they will have to answer is whether they want to regulate the interior of businesses and what owners can put in their windows. The draft regulations would extend the definition of sign to include writing visible from the street and require that only 25 percent of a window’s glass area be covered with signs.

The commission unanimously voted to have the Zoning Committee, a subcommittee of the main body, continue studying the regulations.

“I don’t think the motivation of the Sign Review (Committee) was necessarily misplaced when it said we don’t want to have a Post Road that’s lit up so you can see it from space,” Commissioner David Grigsby said.

Commissioner Robert Richard also said he thinks the draft regulations have good components.

“I don’t know what to do to keep the business people, but also keep what I feel to be the character of Guilford,” he said.

The Zoning Committee and members of the Planning Department will now revise the proposed regulations, after which there will be another round of public hearings.

“This is going to take another two years,” Girioni said. “I can tell.”

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