Northborough Considers Changes To Sign Bylaws

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Selecmen discussed sign bylaw amendments that could regulate when and where signs may be posted in town. Photo Credit: Bret Matthew (file photo)

NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — In preparation for the Planning Board's March 5 public hearing on sign bylaw amendments, the Board of Selectmen Monday discussed stronger regulations for signs in town, particularly those belonging to nonprofits.

Selectmen Chairman Bill Pantazis said either he or another member of the board would present their opinions at the March 5 meeting.

The board discussed "noncommercial signs" put up by nonprofits. According to Town Planner Kathy Joubert, the town counsel has advised against changing the current bylaw but several selectmen said certain groups were leaving too many signs up in town.

"I think we need to do what we need to do to make sure the town is as clean as possible," Selectman Leslie Rutan said. While acknowledging most nonprofits take down their signs within a reasonable period of time, she said there should be regulations for those groups who do not comply.

"Theoretically, a nonprofit could put up any sign, year-round," Selectman Jeff Amberson said.

Amberson proposed setting a uniform time period for nonprofits seeking to put up signs. He suggested allowing signs three weeks before an event and up to one week after. Based on this proposal, nonprofits that wanted their signs up longer would be able to apply for a special extension. 

While most selectmen agreed with the proposal, Selectman Aaron Hutchins questioned why nonprofits needed to be regulated. "I never remember hearing complaints about nonprofits," Hutchins said. "I thought it was always commercial signs that were the problem."

Selectman Dawn Rand, however, said nonprofits should have to conform with the same rules all Northborough businesses follow.

Selectmen also discussed limits on where noncommercial signs can be placed, with most agreeing the restrictions should be stronger. Joubert said historically nonprofits have placed their signs on town land for lack of any other space.

Amberson said nonprofits should ask private residences and businesses to take their signs, similar to politicians who cannot post on town land. "If I were in a nonprofit, I'd go to a business and ask, 'Can I put my sign up?' " he said.

Selectmen opposed a proposal to allow real estate signs to be placed beyond the property being sold. "There should not be an exception for one group of people who wants to sell something," Rutan said. "Everyone wants to sell something."

Selectmen did support additional restrictions on temporary signs. With a permit, business owners are allowed to place 15-square-foot temporary signs out for no more than 45 days in a calendar year. Joubert said that a proposed amendment will require these signs to be taken down at the end of the business day and to stay on the property being advertised when they are up. They also will be forbidden from blocking pedestrian traffic.

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