Springfield Plaza signs

This island near the Springfield Plaza is a popular place for signs, but the town allows only nonprofit organizations to put them there. The strawberry sign in the rear is owned by Blais Farms, a for-profit business, and it has been removed several times. The town is now looking into changing their ordinance to allow farms to advertise on the island.

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — Town officials reached out yesterday to Blais Farm’s owner Maureen Blais to clarify an apparent misunderstanding about placing commercial signs in the highway intersection by the plaza.

Town Manager Tom Yennerell and Zoning Administrator Renee Vondle met with Blais following her public letter of complaint last week about the town’s removal of her sign, which advertised her fresh strawberries. According to Blais’ letter, she reported on June 21 that a member of the Springfield Planning Commission returned Blais' sign to her, one day after Blais placed it. The commission member informed Blais that currently only nonprofit organizations may place a sign in that particular strip.

In the letter, Blais questioned why Crown Point Country Club was permitted to post a sign for its fish-fry event, if the town only allows nonprofits to post signs.

Yennerrell said yesterday in a phone interview that Crown Point is in fact a non-profit organization.

Non-profit golf clubs

According to the Internal Revenue Service website, social clubs — which can include golf clubs — may be exempt from federal income taxation if they are “organized for pleasure, recreation or other nonprofitable purposes”; their income comes predominantly from its members; and the income goes toward the continuation of the club rather than pursuing personal profit. The club is designated as a 501 (c) (7) organization; donations to it are not tax-deductible.

As stated on the Crown Point website, the club is member-owned with tee times available to the public.

In a letter written yesterday Vondle stated Blais’ sign was one of many that the town removed on June 21.

“Unfortunately it has been common for individuals and profit-organizations to place their temporary signs there,” Vondle wrote. “Because it is such a popular place for temporary signs, the town receives a lot of complaints.”

Currently the plaza island is one of the only properties in town where temporary signs can be placed, Vondle said in a phone interview yesterday.

Under the town’s bylaws pertaining to prohibited signs, no signs may be placed within a highway right-of-way except state-maintained business directory signs and official traffic control signs.

This ban included political campaign signs.

“Many people seem to believe that political signs should be allowed because of free speech,” Vondle said in regard to previous complaints.

Revisiting the zoning by-laws

As part of their meeting with Blais, Yennerell and Vondle said that Blais could submit a written recommendation to reform the sign law to the planning commission or formally appeal the town’s decision to the development review board, Blais said. Blais also received blank town forms to facilitate those processes.

“They are supportive of me,” Blais said. “But they said they have to enforce the ordinances and compliances.”

Blais said that she does plan to attend upcoming planning commission and development review board meetings to propose reviewing the law, though that process will not help her advertise for this year.

“Nothing will be resolved this year,” Blais said.

Vondle said that the town is preparing to review its current bylaws, which might give Blais or others the opportunity to propose changes.

On July 22 at 6:30 p.m., the planning commission will hold the first of three public hearings on the current zoning bylaws. The selectboard will hold two public hearings of its own. The bylaws receiving public hearing cannot be amended at this time because the state has already approved them as written, Vondle said.

This fall, however, Yennerell said the town plans to begin a committee review of the zoning laws, which will consider changes to recommend.

Vondle said that these meetings, including the upcoming planning commission hearing, are an ideal way for community members to bring their feedback and suggestions.

“The planning commission values input,” Vondle said. “They are seven people tasked to understand what the community wants.”

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