Danedri Thompson
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Sign violations in Gardner have more than doubled in 2015. Last year, city officials issued nine sign violation notices. To date this year, the city has issued 19 violation notices to 13 Gardner businesses. Two businesses have been cited and sent to municipal court for violating the city’s sign regulations.
Larry Powell, Gardner business and economic development director, told city council members during a Oct. 5 meeting that in most cases, the business owners voluntary bring their signs into compliance with city code by removing it or by applying for a temporary sign permit.
Gardner Edgerton Chamber of Commerce President Jason Camis told council members during the meeting that he has heard from a number of businesses about the recent sign code enforcement.
“This is something that is somewhat unfortunate that the signage thing has come to a head over the last few weeks,” Camis said.
The biggest complaint, he said, is that the sign enforcement seems recent or new.
“They may have not been following the sign ordinance for years, and then all of a sudden,” Camis said.
Enforcement of the city’s sign codes are complaint driven, meaning code inspectors aren’t typically out looking for violations. Through an open records request, The Gardner News learned most of the recent sign violation activity can be traced to one resident, Walter Hermreck. One sign code violation was a staff driven enforcement. Staff cited McDonald’s for a banner that was in front of the restaurant. Hermreck sent more than 15 emails and photographs of sign and other potential code violations to city officials.
Some emails mentioned more than one business.
For example, on June 18, Hermreck sent pictures and questions about three downtown businesses, R&K Diner, CenturyLink, and Spinning Earth Pottery.
“I know you are all still new to the job and probably inundated with work, but I wanted to mention some things and ask a couple of questions,” he wrote. “…I have noticed a couple of things that may or may not be allowed by city code.”
Hermreck inquired if city code allowed R&K Diner to move a table outside during live music nights at the restaurant.
“This looks trashy, and I would guess is not allowed,” Hermreck wrote. “Her sign also potentially blocks the path of people in scooters etc at times.”
The same email details a wall encircling a parking lot at CenturyLink on Elm Street.
“It’s a fake brick wall that is damaged and just looks horribly trashy,” Hermreck wrote.
He also took issue with a large sign that says “Pottery” on the side of Spinning Earth Pottery, 102 S. Elm.
“I just cannot imagine that this was approved for that area since it really distracts from the downtown appearance,” Hermreck wrote.
CenturyLink officials fixed the faux brick wall. R&K Diner staff no longer uses a temporary sandwich board sign detailing specials, but Hermreck sent another email with an attached photo to the city code inspector about the restaurant’s appearance. The photo shows a sign in disrepair above R&K Diner.
“This looks horrible in our downtown area and has been like this for some time,” Hermreck wrote in a Sept. 1 email. “This sign is above the R&K Diner building.”
The Spinning Earth Pottery sign complaint has yet to be resolved.
Hermreck also sent questions and photos about a Gardner Historical Museum sign, a banner on the window at the Gardner Athletic Club, signs at Bret’s AutoWorks, and a banner in front of Sandy’s Pro Photo shop.
Hermreck refused to comment to The Gardner News about his sign complaints in September. However, he did write a blog post about city signage.
“The city of Gardner has been trying to shed the ‘anti-business’ label for some time,” Hermreck wrote in a Sept. 28 post. “At a recent Gardner City Counil meeting, council President (Steve) Shute read a letter he had received from a local business owner who was concerned about the city not uniformly enforcing the sign code/ordinances,” Hermreck wrote. “I was personally concerned that the current system may not be equitable for all of our local businesses so I decided to do a little research on my own.”
Shute read a letter about sign variances at a July 20 council meeting.
“To test the code system, I also made a couple of complaints to see how it would be handled,” Hermreck wrote.
During the Oct. 5 council meeting, Camis said the sign process needs to be worked through.
“Obviously, we want our community to look good, but (the sign code) shouldn’t be onerous for businesses to comply with,” Camis said.
He noted that temporary signage, like banners and sidewalk sandwich boards, seems to be a major point of contention. City code allows for the placement of temporary signs with a permit, but the permit only allows such signs for one period of 30 days in a full calendar year. Many of the complaint-driven sign enforcements have been related to temporary signs without permits. After press time, at least one business was requesting a variance to allow a temporary sign for a longer period of time.
Coleman Warehouse, 17150 W. Mercury St., sought permission to keep a large sign on its warehouse. The sign advertises job openings and Coleman officials were set to appear before the Gardner Board of Zoning Appeals, following press time, to keep its sign for a longer period of time.
On Oct. 5, Shute said the sign code should be business friendly.
“There are two times where businesses really have to examine the sign code,” Shute said. “When they’re getting established and when they’re expanding. If we’re having some sort of issue with complaints, I think the prudent approach would probably be to hold off on citation issues until we have something we can vote on.”