Downtown Bourne Businesses Violating Sign Bylaws

As summer nears and the Cape Cod Canal Centennial Celebration approaches, efforts are being made to put Bourne, and Buzzards Bay in particular, in the best light possible.

Included in those efforts is enforcement of recently approved town sign bylaws.

Douglas H. Shearer, chairman of the Bourne Design Review Committee, said there are numerous instances of sign violations up and down Main Street. Mr. Shearer appeared before the Bourne Board of Selectmen Tuesday night and said that a list compiled by his committee had at least 14 businesses that are flagrant violators.

“Honestly, we could probably find a violation on almost every business,” Mr. Shearer said.

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Mr. Shearer explained that the design review committee was established a little over a year ago and given two charges—review buildings, new structures and additions, and review sign proposals before they go up. He said the rationale for having the design committee police the signs that are used was to clean up the downtown area, further its growth and bring more business and activity to Main Street.”

“A few have come before us but the majority of Main Street has not and we have found that there are numerous violations from one end to the other,” he said.

Bylaws regarding signs in town were passed at Town Meeting in 2012, Mr. Shearer said. He explained that the violations range from non-permitted temporary signs to banners, flags, temporary A-frames and window signs.

“If you’re hanging a cardboard sign in your front window, you’re in violation,” he said.

He added that the bylaw was also intended to do away with businesses tacking a banner announcing “Coming Soon” to the side of their building. He said that any business owner with a sign that is re-worded or renamed is supposed to appear before the design committee “just to make sure it is following the new guidelines that were put in place.”

Mr. Shearer noted that the design committee has no real authority to enforce the town’s sign bylaws. He said the committee’s plan at this point is simply to get letters out to all the business owners on his list, informing them of their violation. Actual enforcement of the bylaw, he said, rests with the town’s building inspector, Roger M. Laporte. Mr. Shearer pointed out that Mr. Laporte is a one-man department, so he has had a difficult time dedicating sufficient time to enforcing the sign bylaws.

“We’ve taken it upon ourselves to do as much of the legwork as possible for him, prior to actual violation notices being sent,” he said.

Selectman Donald J. Pickard suggested that perhaps the town should look at a bylaw change that would make the design review committee an enforcement arm of the building department.

Fellow selectman Linda M. Zuern disagreed with giving the design committee that kind of authority. She did agree that the building department should be given additional help, possibly in the form of volunteers who can do administrative duties such as mailing violation notices.

Town administrator Thomas M. Guerino said that he was in favor of giving some authority to the design review committee or getting some assistance to Mr. Laporte. Mr. Guerino pointed out that the building department took in more 1,000 applications for projects last year.

“That’s just applications, never mind doing the inspections,” Mr. Guerino said.

Selectman Peter J. Meier said that he understood there are regulations that business owners have to follow, but some have received violation notices for signs that are necessary for their business. He pointed out that Canal Creamery ice cream shop and Jake’s Pizza, both relatively new businesses, use sidewalk signs to attract customers.

“You have to look at some sort of a happy medium, or a bylaw change, to give these businesses a chance to survive,” Mr. Meier said.

Mr. Shearer said the bylaw allows for sidewalk signs and temporary A-frame signs “as long as it is an approved design by the design review committee.

“We want to make sure it is done tastefully and done the same from one end of the street to the other,” he said, adding that the signs are required to be taken inside at the close of business every evening.

Ms. Zuern asked if there are some signs that have been grandfathered, and Mr. Shearer said that any sign that was legally in place before the bylaw was changed in 2012 had been grandfathered. However, if the sign needed to be repaired, replaced or redone in any way, the owner had to appear before the design committee to be sure the new design meets existing regulations.

Mr. Pickard questioned Mr. Shearer about whether he felt the bylaw needed to give him more authority. Mr. Shearer said that the bylaw was strong enough on its own, provided the regulations are enforced on a timely basis. For that to happen, he said, an additional enforcement officer in the building department is a must.

“With the events scheduled for Main Street, it would be nice to see the improvements done for this coming season and get everybody up to speed,” he said.

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