Guilford weighs revising sign regulations

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 12, 2008

GUILFORD — The town’s businesses could be facing changes in how they advertise as planning officials look at revising the sign regulations.

Draft rules drawn up by a sign committee would restrict the amount of window space businesses can cover with signs, ban most flashing and lighted signs and require shopping centers to include signage for approval in their master plans.

Town Planner George Kral said at a recent workshop on the draft regulations that the town will consider any temporary signs as not being subject to a “grandfather clause.” That means businesses with existing temporary signs — either in front of the building or in windows — could have to get rid of them.

But the heads of the committee looking at the sign regulations said at the workshop that in many cases their recommended changes would make the rules more permissive. For example, shopping centers would be allowed to set up new displays with several signs in them.

Design Review Committee Chairman Philippe Campus said the last revision of the regulations was in the early-1990s, and since then they have been amended with individual modifications that created a mishmash of rules.

“Every time a problem occurred, somebody stuck a revision in there and stretched the regulations into this 10-page-long, very complicated, very hard to follow set of rules,” he said.

He added that one of the biggest changes involves closing a loophole that allowed businesses to fill windows with signs. The draft regulations allow for signs to cover just 10 percent of window space.

They also ban “flashing, cycling, intermittent, light reflecting, revolving or moving signs.” Signs with lit-up monochromatic numerals less than 14 inches high — like those used to advertise gas prices — would still be allowed.

The new regulations would require businesses to turn off any lighted signs outside of operating hours. That worried some of the people attending the workshop.

Debbie Citelli Robinson, a realtor whose husband owns the Car Care Clinic on Boston Post Road, said that people drop off cars or keys at the business at all hours of the night and there needs to be a sign illuminated continuously.

“We need a lighted sign — we need it for safety, we need it so people can see what they’re doing,” Robinson said.

Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission said that Robinson’s business could be thought of as a 24-hour operation, so the rule would not apply to it. But Robinson said after the meeting that she does not think many business owners are aware of the potential changes.

Campus said the point of requiring businesses to turn off lights at night is to reduce light pollution and not give people the mistaken impression that a business is open.

“In this day and age, it’s a good policy to be mindful and not be wasteful,” he said. “Secondly, we think it’s misleading to have a sign on when a business is not open.”

The sign committee has been studying the sign regulations for about two years. The goal is to “update and upgrade” the rules, Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Shirley Girioni said at the meeting. They should also be easier for applicants to understand and for the town to enforce, she said.

The next step in the process toward adopting new regulations would be a public hearing, where residents can voice their opinions about the rules. The commission has not set a date for the hearing.

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