Chester Planning Commission looks at signs, ponders ‘appropriate funkiness’

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2014 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Planning Commission continued to take comments from the public, especially small business people, regarding new sign regulations that the commission is beginning to work on. While the crowd was not as large as the previous meeting, several who were not at the Monday, Dec. 1 meeting came to give their opinions.

Business owners address the Planning Commission over sign regulations. Photos by Cynthia Prairie

Business owners address the Planning Commission over sign regulations. Photos by Cynthia Prairie

Chester attorney William Dakin noted that at the previous meeting there was a discussion of signs that direct visitors to points of interest around the town including the Green, Stone Village and historic sites.

Commission chair Tom Bock noted that this was outside the scope of sign regulations and suggested that there should be a committee of some sort to design and price such signage because the Select Board doesn’t have time for doing that.

Dakin told the board that the Chester Economic Development Corp. – whose board Dakin chairs – would like to be involved with that effort. CEDC board member Lynne Reed of Misty Valley Books noted that it would fit in with the CEDC’s beautification efforts.

Those attending went on to discuss the needs of businesses and the uses of various types of signs including sandwich boards, internally lit signs using new LED technology and non-signs like carver Barre Pinske’s oversized mailbox and displays of books and rugs in front of the bookstore. Bock recounted that one resident told him, “I don’t want any signs, we don’t need signs in this town.”

“Chester should not just be a great town but also a great business town.”

Michael Alon

Dakin noted that people complain about the number of permits and rules that businesses have to get, but that’s part of life everywhere. The question for Dakin was how flexible the rules can be so the town can be adaptive. At the same time “please be careful about lighting,” Dakin cautioned. “If you’re going to have signs, the lighting has to be regulated and maintained.”

“What should the duration of sign lighting be?” asked commission member Harry Goodell. “Do you limit it to open hours?”

“It’s not about the lighting duration,” answered Michael Alon, owner of DaVallia Art & Accents, “it’s more about the character and quality of the sign.”

Business owners agreed that having the freedom and flexibility to get their message out gives them a better chance at success. When that happens, businesses grow, the money stays in the community and property values go up. “Chester should not just be a great town,” said Alon, “but also a great business town.”

Reed recounted her experience working in Manchester where strict regulation prohibited anything outside the doors of the businesses. “There was no life,” said Reed, “no sense of anything interesting.”

Commission member Tom Hildreth said that it seemed that what they were talking about was finding the “appropriate funkiness” for the town.

“We have to let businesses look interesting,” said Select Board member Bill Lindsay, “otherwise we’ll have empty storefronts, and there’s nothing worse.” Lindsay pointed to the English phone booth as an interesting object that is not a sign, but draws attention to his business. “We have to have the flexibility to think about the health of the community,” said Lindsay.

Barre Pinske brought a visual to show just how small the allowable home business signs are.

Barre Pinske brought a visual to show just how small the allowable home business signs are.

Pinske said that the concept of having a place where an artist or craftsperson could live, work and sell their wares made Chester very attractive to him since zoning in Cape Cod forced him to have three rents – one each for a house, a workshop and a retail shop – which made making a living more difficult. Alon said that such “live-work-sell” arrangements were traditional in Chester and that not too long ago every house in the Stone Village was also a business.

Pinske then held up a 2-square-foot sign, which is the maximum allowed for a home business under the new bylaws (down from 4-square-feet in the old zoning regulations) saying that the town’s economy would be stronger with more “live-work-sell” businesses, but they can’t thrive with such small signage.  “I’m not so concerned with the specifics about signs,” said Pinske, “but rather what is the town’s goal? Where do we want to be in five years?”

“We have to let businesses look interesting, otherwise we’ll have empty storefronts, and there’s nothing worse.”

Bill Lindsay
business owner,
Select Board member

Bock questioned whether signs were as important in the age of the Internet, noting that two Chester business do most of their transactions online. Pinske, Alon and Reed agreed that might work for some businesses, but for unique objects, expensive furniture and many other items, it’s crucial to have a location customers can visit. That, they said, takes signs to show them the way.

The discussion returned to internally lit signs several times and Hildreth noted that LED technology being discussed could result in a very attractive sign – like the new Meditrina Wine and Cheese sign on Main Street – or a harsh and ugly sign like a jumbotron. It was suggested that the commission call on some sign companies to come and explain the new technologies so they could make better decisions about them.

The next planning commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday Jan. 5 at Town Hall, 556 Elm St. It will be a joint meeting with the Development Review Board to discuss issues that have come up since the adoption of the Unified Development Bylaws in October. Among these are questions of signage and lot coverage in the Adaptive 3 district. The next scheduled meeting in which the board will address the sign regulations will be 7 p.m. Monday Jan. 19, also at Town Hall.

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  1. Sandra Vincent says:

    Chester should not be just a great business town, but should also be a great place to live.

    No blinking lights, please. Leave room for creativity (like Bill’s phone booth or Barre’s mail box). But, please, no blinking lights.