Marshfield businesses could be allowed larger signs by special permit under a Marshfield Chamber of Commerce proposal likely to appear on the warrant for the April 22 Town Meeting.
A less restrictive sign bylaw would help make the town’s industrial park, Enterprise Park, more appealing to new businesses, chamber president Christopher White said.
“It’s something that can make one town more attractive than another,” he said.
Issues with commercial signage arise in many communities from time to time. In the last few years, some have voted to allow billboards along highways; Randolph approved a special permit for two billboards along Route 24 in 2011, and Sharon voted in December to allow them in a light industrial zone along Route 1 and Interstate 95.
For storefront signs, communities also debate aesthetic considerations, such as lighting, height, and materials. In Weymouth, the Board of Zoning Appeals recently adopted non-binding guidelines aimed at improving the design of commercial signs.
A less restrictive sign bylaw ‘can make one town more attractive than another.’
In Marshfield, however, the primary issue to date has been visibility.
Town Planner Paul Halkiotis said officials get complaints about sign limitations from new and existing businesses, including, most recently, the Cask ‘n Flagon restaurant, Quirk Cars Inc., and CVS Pharmacy. He said each expressed a desire for a larger sign or an additional sign on the same façade that would count toward the total square footage. CVS wanted to add a sign to show it had opened a MinuteClinic in the store.
Local businesses and the Marshfield Zoning Board of Appeals, which hears applications for zoning variances, have urged the Planning Board to work on the issue, he said. State law requires the Planning Board to hold a public hearing before a zoning bylaw can be changed. The board held the hearing and voted to support the change Jan. 28, Halkiotis said.
“Our bylaw needs to be updated, and I think these changes are appropriate and reasonable,” he said.
In Weymouth, principal planner Robert Luongo said the new design guidelines discourage signs that are lit from behind, flashing, or have moving lights. They encourage materials like wood, copper, and steel, and stipulate that signs should not cover a building’s architectural elements.
Signs give customers a first impression, not only of an individual store, but also of a business district, Luongo said. He said signs that are backlit from the inside can look “chintzy and plasticky,” but that newer backlit signs that allow light to shine only through the letters, such as those at some Cumberland Farms locations, look better.
In terms of sign size, Weymouth hasn’t heard many complaints from businesses, he said, but a community can find decisions about signage difficult because it must balance aesthetics with visibility.
Luongo praised the sign bylaws in Norwell, where he said signs at the street are not as tall as in some communities, yet high enough for drivers to see. “Someone’s thinking over there,” he said.
Lois Barbour, chairwoman of the Norwell Board of Appeals, said she supports strong, uniform rules that include aesthetic elements such as dark-sky lighting — fixtures designed to prevent light from spilling upward into the night sky.
“We have way too much light pollution,” she said. She cited Sanibel, Fla., as a place where signs and lighting are well regulated, with signs kept close to the ground and lighting low. “It’s very pleasant. There’s a certain peacefulness about the much-reduced lighting.”
Norwell would do well to move its sign rules into the general bylaws, she said, because unlike with zoning bylaws, no grandfathering would be allowed.
In Marshfield, White said the town is poised to realize an economic opportunity with the widening of Route 139 and the installation of a traffic light at the entrance to Enterprise Park. Companies have been slow to locate in the park, partly because of traffic congestion, he said, but with the widening of the road and larger signs, companies will find the park more attractive.
In addition to a business’ primary sign, the Marshfield proposal would allow a second sign facing a side street, rear street, or parking lot and clarify language that White said is unclear. If the business faced a third street or parking lot, a third sign could be granted by special permit. In addition, the proposed bylaw would allow company logos to be printed on awnings, a practice not currently allowed unless the size of the logo is subtracted from the square footage of the company sign, Halkiotis said.
Michael Harrington, chairman of the Marshfield Zoning Board of Appeals, said the board is apolitical and does not usually get involved in policy debates, but he supports the change. He saw the existing bylaw present a problem in the case of the CVS clinic, he said.