BURLINGTON – The Board of Selectmen’s 3-2 approval of a 14-ft. monument sign for The Shoppes at Simonds Park officially drew the ire of Town Meeting.
At its only session this week, Town Meeting was one vote short of unanimously passing a resolution firmly opposing the aforementioned sign on town property that was approved by the Board of Selectmen on Jan. 13. A unanimous vote wasn’t needed to pass the resolution.
Even with the resolution passed, The Shoppes at Simonds Park, the former Building 19 ½ site on Cambridge Street, will still have the 14-ft. free-standing monument sign fronting the property.
The objective of the sign is to adequately provide marketability and directory for the businesses in the massive mixed-use property, and specifically in the rear portion of the site that isn’t visible to drivers passing by. The approved free-standing sign will stand at 14-ft. and consist of a granite base, brick columns, and a list of tenant panels in the middle.
In order to reach an approval, the applicant had to work closely with the Board of Selectmen’s subcommittee for this matter, which included Selectman Chair Joe Morandi and Selectman Michael Runyan. As a result of these meetings, the town developed a request for proposal (RFP) so the land could be licensed formally.
A key aspect of the license agreement states that the sign can only list the businesses names and not have logos, just numbers and lettering. The actual sign board, where the tenants will be listed, is expected to be 9’7”. The contract also calls for the park’s owner, Duffy Properties, to pay the town a licensing fee of $436,000 over 20 years for the use of town land for the sign.
The resolution was announced by Town Meeting Precinct 5 member Phyllis Neufeld, reading as such: “Be it resolved, Town Meeting wishes to put on record our opposition to the 14-ft. sign that the Board of Selectmen approved by The Shoppes at Simonds Park on town-owned land.”
The gist of the resolution pertained to whether the decision by the Selectmen to formally allow the sign was warranted. Duffy Properties did go through the legal process by going in front of the Selectmen for a vote and not the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals, which is allowed in the town’s bylaws for a piece of town-owned property.
The consensus among those against the Selectmen’s vote was a feeling that this action potentially opening the flood gates for future businesses seeking signs on town-owned properties.
Planning Board Chair Barbara L’Heureux spoke during the meeting on behalf of the planners, citing her displeasure of the decision of the Selectmen.
“The Planning Board is deeply concerned of the precedent that would be set if a private entity is able to install signage on town land. Once the precedent is set, it would be difficult to deny signs in similar situations. Many businesses would benefit from the having a sign fronting their property,” remarked L’Heureux.
Precinct 4 Town Meeting member Sally Willard declared her support for the resolution.
“I support the resolution based on the Selectmen setting a precedent for approving monument signs on town property,” she stated. “We need to express our dissatisfaction.”
Precinct 2 Town Meeting member Catherine Beyer admitted she was “outraged” when she found out about the process playing out like it did.
“This matter should have gone through the standard process of going through all of our committees,” Beyer avowed. “This is the first of a bunch of potential, similar problems down the line.”
Yet, as was noted several times during the meeting, the course of action taken by the Selectmen was legal, as they have the right to approve signs for public rights-of-way on town-owned property.
Past Route 3A Subcommittee member and Precinct 6 Town Meeting member, Sonia Rollins, understood what Duffy Properties and the Selectmen did was legal, but it doesn’t mean they were justified.
“The critical component is that there is a process in place,” voiced Rollins. “So, while it may be legal to do, my comment is that while you can license the land, I would like to see the sign go before the ZBA. There will also be other businesses that would want this and some have already asked the ZBA and have been denied which was appropriate. Just because you are within your right to do something, does not make it right. A directory sign of 14-ft. was not a part of our vision on Cambridge Street in the Town Center.”