SPRINGFIELD, Vt. -- A small but strongfelt group of residents voiced criticism at last night’s Springfield Planning Committee meeting about the town policy regarding temporary signs, which the residents said seem inconsistent and are unfair to seasonal businesses.
“[The ordinances should] be more friendly,” said resident Bill Handly.
While Handly agreed with the committee about not littering the town with temporary signs and posters, including fining people who fail to remove signs after their event, Handly said that Springfield’s strict ordinances for signage may discourage prospective businesses.
The controversy over signage emerged last month after Blais’ Farm owner Maureen Blais complained after the town removed her sign advertising strawberries from the intersection by the Plaza. Blais’ letter to the town reached social media, including the community Facebook page, Happenings in Springfield, where residents questioned why the town only allowed non-profit organizations like the Springfield Farmer’s Market to keep signs in the intersection but not local farmers like Blais.
Town Planner Renee Vondle reiterated last night that the by-laws actually forbid any signs being in that intersection, due to it being a right-of-way. She said that in the past, the town sometimes made exceptions for requests by non-profits, but that the intersection has since been cleared of signs.
Vondle agreed with the need to review the sign ordinances, saying that many seasonal businesses need the ability to advertise but the current by-laws do not specify options for them.
“It’s a difficult issue and an emotional issue,” Vondle said. Vondle said that once the selectboard approves the proposed updates to the zoning by-laws, which the committee calls Phase One, the committee will look more closely at improving signage by-laws in the second phase. Vondle said that she hopes to acquire a grant to fund that study.
“You have to come to meetings”
Planning Committee Chair Joe Wilson told the residents in attendance that their public comments do matter, even if the committee was not currently changing signage ordinances at this time.
“We will be dealing with it in phase two,” Wilson said. “We need the public input.”
Committee member Jesse Webster said that before joining the committee, he used to be that resident sitting in the audience, and that participation increased his engagement.
“If you want change you have to come,” Webster said. “Go to the selectboard meetings, come to our meetings. It’s one night of the month.”
The committee members said that they do pay attention to the comments on social media, as they do direct communication with residents. However, what people say on Facebook does not go on public record like what residents say at an official meeting.
“If someone feels passionate they should come to the meeting,” said committee member Jen Gehly. “Get it on camera. Get it documented.”
Committee member Char Osterlund said that residents can also get their comments put on record by writing to a committee member, with request that the chair or member reads the resident’s statement during the meeting’s public comments.
The planning committee approved the proposed updates to the town zoning by-laws last night after a short public hearing. The proposed changes will have two public hearings with the selectboard before adoption. The committee said that the proposed changes do not include any new regulations. The proposal adjusted the zoning map’s business district to accommodate goals in the town master plan and added by-laws to allow the school district to construct an electronic message display by Riverside Middle School.