BURLINGTON – The Shoppes at Simonds Park, the former Building 19 ½ site on Cambridge Street, will have a free-standing monument sign fronting the property.

The Board of Selectmen approved the free-standing monument sign proposal at its most recent meeting.

Construction has reached the final stages at The Shoppes at Simonds Park, but the recent main topic of conversation regarding the massive mixed-use project has revolved around a proposed free-standing monument sign.

Heritage Trail, LLC, the legal entity created by property owner, Duffy Properties, has received all the necessary approvals in the last two years on the site that will see the creation of 47,750-square-feet of commercial retail and restaurant space, as well as 48,000-square-feet of residential space.

Local attorney Mark Vaughan, of Riemer & Braunstein, representing Heritage Trail, LLC, surmised, “All along, [Heritage Trail, LLC] wanted a freestanding sign by the retail component of the site.”

Vaughan added, “[Heritage Trail, LLC] and potential retail tenants have expressed concern over the marketability of the rear portion of the site,” which is well-removed from Cambridge Street and doesn’t get the visibility that is desired. “Tenants are expressing they want signage.”

Under the site’s General Business Zoning District, there is a prohibition against freestanding directed signage, according to the town zoning bylaws.

In hopes of getting around this limitation, the applicant did devise a draft bylaw that would allow the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to determine if a freestanding sign for a particular project should be allowed.

“The language says the sign would be compatible with the architecture and colors of the buildings on the site,” detailed Vaughan. “This would only be for projects constructed after Jan. 1, 2017 with a certain square-footage floor area. We made it so these signs aren’t popping up everywhere in town. This is a justifiable need for an appropriate monument sign of this location.”

However, the bylaw change was not necessary in order for the Selectmen to approve the sign at this week’s meeting because the free-standing structure’s location is going to be in the former Center Street layout, which has been called the “optimal location” for safety and visibility reasons.

The approved free-standing sign stands at 14-ft. and will consist of a granite base, brick columns, and tenant panels in the middle.

“The intention here is to have something attractive, well done, and consistent with the time and effort that went into the buildings themselves,” Vaughan remarked. “We want to make sure it is attractive because it is an important project for the town. [Duffy Properties] has said there is no way to make this a successful project without visibility for the rear retail building.”

Vaughan added, the goal is to have something “tasteful” and “appropriate in keeping with the spirit of the Town Center.”

In order to reach an approval, the applicant had to work closely with the 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.

“We received one response for our RFP, which was from [Duffy Properties],” confirmed Sagarino. “The law allows negotiations to start with that.”

Reaching an approval

Several residents and board members initially cited concern about the sign’s location and potential obstruction with the traffic light pole in the vicinity, specifically for drivers heading north on Cambridge Street.

“I wish the sign could be smaller and without logos,” said Selectman James Tigges, even thought the applicant decreased the height of the sign from 16-ft. to 14-ft. “There area many other places on the site you could have put this sign, which is a private sign on public property.”

Selectman Nicholas Priest preferred this sign license approval be a Zoning Board of Appeals matter.

“If this is approved, then it opens the flood gates. This directory sign is too large for what was envisioned in the Town Center,” voiced Selectman Priest.

Planning Board Chair Barbara L’Heureux spoke during the meeting on behalf of the planners, as a member of the audience.

“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.

Kevin Duffy, of Duffy Properties, touched on how his company compromised on the design of the sign.

“We positioned the sign in the best location we could to maximize its visibility on Cambridge Street,” declared Duffy. “We would have liked it to be taller, but I feel we compromised at 14-ft.”

The sign is 14-ft. from the monument base to the very top of the actual sign. The actual sign board, where the tenants will be listed, is expected to be 9’7”. As the conditions note, the sign will not have logos, as it will only be permitted to contain numbers and lettering.

The Selectmen heard the concerns, but recognized this sign’s location as a singularly unique scenario, meaning that residents shouldn’t expect signs like these to become commonplace in Burlington.

“Denying this is not solving anything,” suggested Selectman Michael Runyan. “We need to address the [50+ year-old] sign bylaws at Town Meeting.”

One resident referenced Lexington’s no free-standing signs policy in its town center district as a model Burlington should emulate. That did not sway the board.

“We will never be Lexington. Our roads are too wide and far apart,” professed Selectman Chair Joseph Morandi. “Some people are going to like this sign and some are not. It is just a matter of opinion at this point. This is not a perfect sign, but it is good enough and better than the one on Third Avenue.”

The Selectmen proceeded to unanimously ratify the monument sign’s license application, with conditions. External LED lighting is the likely option that will illuminate the sign.

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