Created on Thursday, 21 February 2008 07:14
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 February 2008 07:14
By Randy Pelley and JoEllen Barton
The Waitsfield zoning administrator paid a visit to my business last week to inform me of my violation of the town sign ordinances, and provided me with a copy of the sign requirements. It was interesting reading. The purpose of the law is stated as being "to protect the public health, safety and welfare."
I didn't realize that advertising my business was endangering any of those. It further states that we must control signs "in order to protect the economic and scenic value of the town." This is really the crux of the matter, isn't it? -- balancing the economic viability of the businesses with preserving the scenic beauty of the town.
First off, how scenic is it really? It seems that the town fathers want us to picture Waitsfield as the quintessential Vermont town with people casually strolling along window shopping the local merchants. In reality we are a bunch of disconnected buildings and mini strip malls along a state highway with no sidewalks and no real way to get from one to another except by car. It therefore becomes imperative for a business like ours to attract the attention of the passing motorists on their one pass through The Valley on the way to the mountain.
All the storefront advertising in the world (and even that is severely restricted) is not going to do any good if the storefront isn't visible from the road. Yes, we put a sandwich sign by the road occasionally, usually for a few days on busy weekends and for a special sale. That sign has been proven to increase our business by up to 50 percent and many people, both locals and visitors, have told us they came in specifically because of the sign. I don't think we could afford to lose that much business and still survive. You must also realize that this is not just a matter of signs on Route 100. I am not even allowed to put that sign outside my front door.
My circumstances may be upsetting enough, but I have to sympathize with my neighboring business, Country Creemees. He was of course also hit for his excessive advertising. How is anyone passing through town supposed to know that a creemee stand has hot grilled and Mexican food all winter. The zoning administrator actually told me that his advertising was a public safety issue because it caused kids to congregate. What?
Now what about enforcement of the sign regulations? My shop, Country Creemees and probably some others are being targeted because of this sandwich sign debate. Is that fair? If you are going to prosecute some businesses for violations you had better be sure you address all businesses equally. Just to satisfy myself I went out for a little tour of Waitsfield on Sunday morning with sign regulations in hand.
In an hour I found dozens of violations without even looking hard. Is your business safe? Don't be too sure. Do you display an "open" flag. Take it down. I was told mine is not allowed. Does your lettering comply? Hope you passed math for this one. For example "lettering and/or wall graphics shall not exceed an area equal to four times the square root of the lineal frontage divided by 1.5." Who makes this stuff up? Is any of your lettering more than 18 inches high? Gas station fuel price signs may not exceed nine square feet. Gold star for Troy! The others? And what is the deal with the billboard-size graffiti next to the pond behind NorthLand? Don't even bother talking to me about my sign until that is gone.
If the board continues to "protect" us with all these regulations we will all be out of business and the only signs will be "Thomas Hirchak Auction" signs like the one we saw on Adworks, which was, by the way, a non-complying sign.
We are interested in receiving feedback on this issue, kind of an unscientific poll. Please email us your thoughts at
. Please put "signs" in the subject line. Or stop into the store and write down your comments. We will keep you updated.
The authors are owners of Lily of the Mad River Valley in Waitsfield.