Sign Bylaw Review Committee Deals With Questions, Large and Small

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Neon sign (c) 2012 all rights reserved

Member Jeff Cohen says the tasks that the Sign Bylaw Committee faces have both minor and far-reaching implications.

On the one hand, reviewing punctuation and grammar of the current bylaw doesn’t generate much interest for anyone, including the members of the committee. “It’s about as interesting as watching grass grow,” Cohen said.

At the same time, he acknowledged that periodic housekeeping of this sort is important to do. Additionally, as a member of both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board, Cohen also sees weekly examples of how people struggle to understand the current bylaw and how hard it can be for Town committees to interpret it. For these reasons, two of the goals of the Sign Bylaw Review Committee are to disentangle the bylaw’s structure and to improve it grammatically.

As for the more far-reaching aspects of the Committee’s work, the sign bylaw has a direct impact on the visual appearance of the town, which is a quality of life issue. Businesses are also helped or hindered by whether they can effectively use signage to advertise their location.

Cohen said that the Committee has canvassed a variety of business owners, hailing from different parts of town. They report that the current bylaw is not especially friendly to them so the Committee is considering a change that would allow different styles of signage in different zones of town.

“What may be appropriate for a Crosby Drive business might not be appropriate for The Great Road,” Cohen explained. But, he emphasized, that while it wanted to help business, the Committee did not want to turn Great Road into Route 1.

In order to find some models to work with, the Committee has been taking a look at other towns’ bylaws to see how they handle the signage question. The members have looked at a diverse range of towns including Hingham, Medford, and Chatham. In addition to considering different sign styles for different parts of town, the Committee has looked at things like levels of illumination, internal lamination, sandwich boards and A-frames, temporary, and removable signs.

Eventually, the Committee’s recommendations will come before Town Meeting but not until spring, at the earliest. In the meantime, the progress of their work is available on the Town website, complete with red-lining and cross outs as they progress through the document.

Since their recommendations will be so diverse— from small to large revisions— Cohen expects the Committee will try to reach out to the community before Town Meeting, to provide some public education.  He emphasized, “We are working toward finding areas of compromise so that residents and businesses will be happy with the changes.”

To see the Sign Bylaw Review Committee’s work to date, visit:

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October 3, 2012 8:21 pm

Article 40.6, Section D. Political Signs. That section strikes me as laughably unconstitutional; specifically, it is an unreasonable restriction on citizens’ First Amendment right to free speech. Does the Town have a legal opinion which says otherwise? If not, seems like it would be prudent to delete that section.