January 23 2020

Monument Sign on Town Property for Shoppes at Simonds Park Development Approved

By: Rich Hosford

A controversial sign that will be placed on town property for a leasing fee has been approved by the Board of Selectmen. 


The “monument sign” for the Shoppes at Simonds Park development at 154-160 Cambridge Street was approved by a 3-2 vote during last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting. Selectmen Nick Priest and Bob Hogan voted against the license deal. 


The sign will be a 14-foot structure off of Cambridge Street with the list of businesses in the commercial park. As part of an agreement made at the meeting the sign will list only the businesses names and not have logos which at least one member of the board thought would be too distracting to drivers. 


One issue with the sign raised by those who oppose it is its placement on town property. Planning Chair Barbara L’Heuruex, who spoke against it at the meeting and wrote a letter to the board, said this could set a bad precedent. 


“The Planning Board is deeply concerned about the precedent that would be set if a private entity is allowed to install commercial signage on town land,” she wrote in a July 29, 2019 letter. “There are many businesses in town that would benefit from signage placed on town property and once this precedent is set, it will be difficult for the town to deny other commercial signs in similar situation.” 


Another issue raised was the size of the sign itself. The owner of the development, Duffy Properties, working under the legal entity Heritage Trail, LLC for this project, had said they wanted the sign to be 16 feet but agreed to compromise. Kevin Duffy, accompanied by attorney Mark Vaughan of Riemer & Braunstein, was at the meeting to defend his interests. He argued the sign had to be big enough to allow all tenants a chance of having their businesses listed on it. This is especially important for the businesses that will be in the back building that does not abut Cambridge Street directly because they will have less visibility to the public, he said. 


Still, Selectman Hogan voiced his concern that at 14 feet it was still too large in his opinion and that its placement could obstruct the view of drivers. 


“I understand the importance of having signs so people know what is in that location but I’m concerned about the location and it possibly being an obstruction of the pole for the traffic lights,” he said. “I also want to make sure that it’s not too big.”


Selectman Priest said his concern is that even if the agreement between the town and the developer was legal, as town counsel had suggested through an interpretation of the bylaws, he thought concerns raised by other boards should be taken into consideration. Specifically, the Zoning Board of Appeals, which normally handles the bylaws in regards to signage, had expressed concern of the process where the selectmen made this agreement by acting alone. 


“I would rather this go through the ZBA,” he said. “I think as a board we should assign this to them and they can go through the same process as everyone else.”


Selectman Mike Runyan, who had been on the subcommittee for the license agreement over the sign, said he thought the issue wasn’t with the sign but with the town’s bylaws regarding signage. 


“Over the last several months I’ve heard from a number of people suggesting that allowing this sign would give this developer an unfair advantage,” he said. “My response to that is denying the applicant is not the answer to our sign problem here. The problem we have in Burlington is that there have been no revisions to our sign bylaws since they were written in the 70s. If these signs are necessary for success in Burlington than why aren’t we looking at our sign bylaws?”


Chairman Joe Morandi said he thought much of this came down to a difference of opinion over whether people liked a particular sign. He said they could argue about it forever or they could vote. Shortly thereafter the vote was taken and the sign license agreement was approved. 


Under that agreement Duffy Properties will pay the town $436,000 for the use of town property.


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