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Westport OKs Another Change in Sign Rules

WESTPORT, Conn. – In an effort to help Westport merchants prosper, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a change to zoning regulations to allow businesses in non-residential zones in town to use sidewalk and sandwich signs.

But these freestanding portable signs must either be chalk or eraser board, have handwritten letters and be no larger than a specified size. This means many of the signs seen around town will no longer be acceptable come March 9.

“I’m sick to death of seeing clutter out there,” commission member Chip Stephens said. “We either have to get rid of everything or give everyone the same chance. Handwritten signs with distinct messages are much better than signs made out of piping or cardboard.”

Under current zoning regulations, freestanding portable signs are not permitted. However, in February 2009, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff requested the commission suspend enforcement of the regulations and allow businesses to temporarily use these signs as a way to drive more business in the economic slump. This suspension has been extended several times since.

The change the commission approved Thursday night, known as text amendment 644, is one of two made to the current regulations. In November, the commission approved text amendment 643, which will allow freestanding portable signs in downtown and Saugatuck Center starting Feb. 17. Amendment 644 expands the area in which these signs will be allowed to non-residential zones, not just downtown or Saugatuck.

Both text amendments specify that signs must be chalk or eraser board and have handwritten letters. The signs, which will require annual permits, can only be displayed during business hours and can’t be larger than 24 inches by 40 inches.

Although the commission unanimously approved amendment 644, resident Angela Trucks, chairman of the Beautification Committee, voiced opposition to the change. She said expanding the area in which sandwich signs are allowed will lead to more clutter and diminish the town’s aesthetics.

“Speaking on behalf of the Beautification Committee, additional signage will only detract from the appearance of these roadways,” she said. “It’s laudable to want to help the business community, but we [residents] have a right not to be visually assaulted by signage.”

Resident Jeff Arciola, owner of Junior's Hot Dog Stand on Riverside Avenue, strongly disagreed with Trucks and argued that these types of signs greatly help boost business.

Arciola added that it would be unfair to allow businesses located in downtown or Saugatuck Center to have these signs, but tell other business owners, like him, they can’t use them.

“Things are still tough out there. For me to be able to put a sign out there for four hours a day, it does help my business,” he said. “If you want to regulate the signs, that’s fine. But people are still trying to make a living. Would you rather see ‘For lease’ or ‘For sale’ signs, or a sandwich sign that helps bring in money to pay the rent?"

Text amendment 644 will go into effect March 9. And although amendment 643 goes into effect next week, Planning and Zoning Director Laurence Bradley said, in order to be fair and reduce confusion amongst business owners around town, enforcement will not begin until after March 9.

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