Proposed sign bylaw would aim to restrict lit signs in Northborough

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Downtown Northborough features a variety of signs. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

NORTHBOROUGH – A proposed bylaw could prohibit the use of new internally lit signs in some districts in Northborough. 

The bylaw, which was proposed by Planning Board member Anthony Ziton, would prohibit internally lit signs in the Downtown Business, Business East and Business West districts. It would also eliminate an exemption for illuminated signs in residential districts. 

In a meeting in December, Ziton said he went through a number of municipalities’ bylaws that prohibited internally lit signs in their downtowns and Main Streets.

Former Town Planner Kathy Joubert said this bylaw would only apply to new signs. Any signs in the impacted districts would be grandfathered under this change. 

The Planning Board revisited the specific language of the proposed bylaw during its Jan. 4 meeting, which Ziton was not present for.

During that meeting, member Amy Poretsky referenced the current bylaw, which in part seeks to manage the use of signs to avoid a sign overload.

Visiting Main Street these days, though, she said there are places with a sign overload.

“As a person driving by, I don’t think it adds anything to the store to have a million stickers and signs all over the front of it,” she said.

Proposed changes

Inspector of Buildings and Zoning Enforcement Officer Bob Frederico said some of what is being proposed is already included in Northborough’s bylaws.

He also noted possible impacts of the amended bylaw.

For example, the proposed bylaw would prohibit pennant and banner signs, with the exception of one-time uses for events like grand openings. Such signs would only be allowed in cases for 30 days or less and would require a permit. 

Pennant signs are already not allowed, Frederico said. 

Banner signs are allowed with a special permit. They can be temporary signs hanging for up to 56 days per calendar year and can be used to promote events like tent sales or other special sales for Northborough’s annual Applefest, Frederico said. 

“So, if somebody wants to have a special sale or a special event — it’s Rocky’s 50th anniversary, can they put up a banner? The answer is ‘no’ if this goes through,” Frederico said. 

Illuminated signs are not permitted in residential districts under the current bylaw. There is an exception, though, allowing such signs “when [they are] associated with an allowed residential use or a lawfully pre-existing nonconforming business use.” 

Ziton’s proposal would eliminate that exception. 

Frederico said that change might be rejected by the state Attorney General because it would strike the lawfully pre-existing nonconforming business use.

Member Michelle Gillespie said removing that exemption would significantly impact “many” parcels in Northborough, like Davidian’s Farm stand.

“It’s a preexisting,” she said. “It’s in a residential area. It’s a standalone sign. They have floodlights on it. By doing this, you then shut off and darken their sign. These are unintended consequences that the board needs to look at how they’re impacting their business community.” 

Any changes would need to be placed on a Town Meeting warrant and be approved by town meeting voters. 

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