Westminster council to review rules for downtown shop signs

Pawnshop's appeal of permit denial spurs call for clarification

March 14, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

After more than four months of haggling between city officials and the owners of a pawnshop, the Westminster Common Council voted last night to review its 23-year-old sign standards to prevent similar conflicts.

Councilman Gregory Pecoraro suggested the city clarify its rules before making a decision on the pawnshop's window signs and then having "to revisit the issue constantly and frequently for the next few weeks."

Diana Gray and Frank Smallwood of Bond Street Loan and Jewelry have been fighting the city's denial of a permit for four signs on the front and side windows of their downtown shop at West Main and Bond streets. They said they applied for a sign permit before installing window signs costing $1,300.

But Thomas B. Beyard, the city's planning and public works director, said the signs were put up before the owners sought a permit. The owners did nothing for two months after being informed that their signs violated downtown sign standards, according to city documents.

Threatened with the removal of their signs, the owners appealed to the mayor and council. At last month's council meeting, a lawyer for the pawnshop said the signs did not violate the city regulation because they are suspended from the ceiling and hang nearly 6 inches from the glass rather than being placed directly on the windows -- a distinction that council President Damian Halstad called a "clever way to circumvent the renovation standards."

The council debated the aesthetics and safety of the pawnshop's signs as well as the "spirit and intent" of the city's renovations standards, then voted to postpone a decision to give council members time to inspect the signs.

The pawnshop's largest sign, which faces West Main Street, nearly fills a window and includes the business name, description and phone number as well as the words "PAWN PAWN PAWN." Three signs facing Bond Street are spread across three windows.

A six-person committee has been studying the downtown district's design standards, which provide guidelines for facades, signs and shutters. The regulations were written in 1977.

"We need to see how some of these decisions fit with the new standards because there are other signs that have permits pending that might be impacted by these decisions," Beyard said. "So it's not just one sign."

A few years ago, the council conducted several hearings for downtown businesses that wanted awnings -- because city regulations did not allow for them. Beyard said the city does not want signs to become the next issue for appeals.

In other business, the city recognized the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal nonprofit group, for donating $2,250 to buy arcade games for the city's recreational after-school programs.

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