Commercial Banners and Free-Standing Signs Permitted Temporarily


By Kim Siebert MacPhail

At its previous meeting on June 17, the Sign Bylaw Committee made a plea to the Board of Selectmen to allow a trial period for free-standing business signs and banners, a move that is intended to help Bedford’s businesses advertise their goods and services. At a subsequent meeting on July 1, the Selectmen voted to permit the sign experiment to go forward— effective immediately and ending by the November 4 Special Town meeting date— so that business owners can gauge how effective the signage is and citizens can experience how sandwich boards, A frames, and the like would look if permanently permitted along Bedford’s commercially zoned streets.

The 4-month test period is thought to be sufficiently long so that the businesses can collect adequate data on whether the signage does increase business, as predicted. It is hoped that, at the same time, residents will get a sense of how free-standing signs could change the Town’s commercial district visual landscape.

Karen Kenney, a member of the Sign Bylaw Committee and a Chamber of Commerce representation, was pleased with the length of the trial period because she feared that a shorter, less-relaxed timeframe would result in a sudden glut of signs that could negatively influence public opinion.

Sign Bylaw Committee Chair Jeff Cohen spelled out the terms of the “Commercial Movable Freestanding Sign” proposal that will–if the trial period is successful—become an article for consideration at the November Special Town Meeting:

  • One sign is permitted per business.
  • The sign can only be displayed at the property where the business is located when the business opens for the day and until no later than 8:00 pm.
  • The sign may not be erected on public property, such as the sidewalk or grass strip between the sidewalk and street.
  • The sign must be designed or anchored to withstand wind so as not to be turned over.
  • The sign will not obstruct pedestrian, bicycle or vehicular traffic.
  • The sign must not obstruct the view of on-coming traffic.
  • The maximum size of the sign is 9 feet square and no higher than 40 inches.
  • The freestanding sign may not be illuminated.

Similar rules apply to “open” banners.  The proposed changes regarding banners could also appear as a bylaw amendment at Special Town Meeting, separate from the free-standing sign bylaw amendment article.

Kenney said that the Chamber of Commerce will help get the word out about the trial period to members and non-members alike. Selectman Margot Fleischman added that the Town should consider writing a press release and putting the information on the website as well.

Resident Jim O’Neil—who has closely watched the sign bylaw revision process—expressed concern about compliance with the 8 pm sign curfew, citing scofflaw behavior with regard to current signage rules.

“A lot of violations continue now that are not enforced,” O’Neil said. “This 8 pm rule is just feel-good; it’s not going to be enforced.”

Selectman Mike Rosenberg responded that not making a rule because it won’t be enforced is a slippery slope. “Every time I go down Concord Road [at] five miles an hour over the speed limit. . .  why don’t we just remove the speed limit sign?

“Let’s talk to the [Code Enforcement] department and find a way,” Rosenberg continued. “This is a probationary experience and my hope would be that participants would comply without having to beat them with a club. If this is what we think is the correct way to do it, let’s find creative ways for enforcement instead of just throwing in the towel.”

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