A signage issue frustrates Breakdown Lane businesses
Tisbury's zoning bylaws have stymied the selectmen and business owners alike in their efforts to provide signage for Business District 2 on Breakdown Lane off Holmes Hole Road. Although the selectmen recently agreed to put up a street sign at the corner on State Road reading "Holmes Hole Business Park," the business owners told them thanks, but it is not enough.
What they really want is a directory sign with their individual businesses listed, to help their customers find them since they are tucked out of sight off State Road. Julie Robinson, owner of Julie Robinson's Interiors on Breakdown Lane, told the selectmen last month she had received permission from Dukes County Savings Bank officials to put up a directory-type sign on their property at the corner of Holmes Hole Road and State Road.
However, the town's zoning bylaws would prohibit it as a "non-appurtenant" sign, because the directory would be advertising businesses that do not operate on the property where the sign would be located.
The corner of Holmes Hole Road and State Road will soon feature a street sign for Holmes Hole Business Park, but no directory sign for businesses on Breakdown Lane. Photo by Ben Scott
Ken Barwick, Tisbury's building and zoning inspector, suggested the business park sign as a short-term solution, and recommended that the selectmen "shepherd along an article to make a zoning bylaw change." In keeping with the current regulations, Mr. Barwick told them the sign for the business district "should be a town sign erected on town property under the town's control."
In response to his suggestion and to Ms. Robinson's complaint that this is the second summer with no sign, Selectman Denys Wortman urged the board to take action to help the businesses before summer is over. The selectmen agreed to put up the business park sign as a start, while seeking advice from town counsel about whether there was a legal compromise for allowing a directory sign.
What's in a name?
"I appreciate the town offering to have a sign, but we want to have a directory, as well," Ms. Robinson said afterwards. "Both are necessities." She added that she and the other business owners are willing to pay for a tastefully done sign and its installation.
"This is a commercial business district," Ms. Robinson said. "I'm just asking the town to give us a variance to put a directory sign on Holmes Hole Road to direct people up here. I've been trying to do this legally for the last two years, and now my back is up against the wall, because my tenant is threatening to leave."
The tenant she is referring to is Carol Craven, owner of Carol Craven Gallery next door. "I find it useless not being able to have the name of my business on State Road - it's name recognition," Ms. Craven said. "I will have to move if I don't get signage."
The other Breakdown Lane businesses interested in listings on a directory sign include Hanschka Fine Metalwork, Jeff Entner Painting, McDonough & Company, Soikkeli & Company, J.B.'s Screen and Window Repair, and Preferred Tire & Auto, Ms. Robinson said.
"I'm a Mass. state inspection station, and people have a problem trying to find us," said Mike Dow, co-owner of Preferred Tire & Auto. "I can't tell you how many phone calls we get, where people are en route, and say, okay, now where are you?"
Whit Hanschka, owner of Hanschka Fine Metalwork, said a directory sign could be a "mixed blessing" for him. Although the sign might generate drop-in traffic that would interrupt his work, on the plus side, he said, "Someone who walks in might not be looking to spend any money, but might end up doing so or telling friends about me."
The Holmes Hole rebellion
Last winter, Ms. Robinson began placing a small sandwich board that read "art and antiques" at the corner of Holmes Hole Road, in violation of the zoning bylaw. Mr. Barwick said he had no choice but to enforce the bylaw and starting fining her $50 a day last spring.
"We're just trying to do business," Ms. Robinson explained. "Carol Craven's gallery is only open for the summer months. Our little sandwich board down there, which Mr. Barwick says is against the town's bylaws, is the only advertising we can give her."
Mr. Barwick waited to hear further from the selectmen, regarding advice from town counsel regarding their legal options for possibly granting a variance. In the meantime, he and Ms. Robinson conferred on her proposed design for a directory sign, should the town allow it.
At the selectmen's meeting on July 11, Selectman Chairman Tristan Israel said that town counsel advised the board they could not legally grant a variance for the sign under the existing zoning bylaws.
"Our hands are tied," he told Ms. Craven, who attended the meeting for Ms. Robinson, who was on the agenda. Ms. Craven protested that a sign for Holmes Hole Business Park "means nothing."
"We thought at least the sign will give some point of reference for finding the business park," Selectman Tom Pachico explained. As an additional measure, the selectmen agreed to add "Breakdown Lane" on a smaller sign attached to the business park sign.
Director of Public Works Fred LaPiana said the business park sign has been ordered and should be up in another two weeks.
"We all would like to accommodate you and all of the existing businesses," Mr. Israel told Ms. Craven, and encouraged her to work with the planning board in drafting an article for a zoning bylaw change for the next town meeting.
Failure to launch
However, that is exactly what Ms. Robinson already attempted to do.
Last winter, she said went to the Planning Board for the second time, working with them for several months seeking to change the zoning bylaw. Ms. Robinson proposed that the board change the non-appurtenant sign regulation to read, "No 'Third Party' signboards and signs shall be permitted without a special permit from the Tisbury Planning Board."
She also drafted a proposed new bylaw that would allow the planning board, after a public hearing, to grant a special permit allowing a "Third Party" signboard and signs, in conformance with the specifications in the current zoning bylaws.
The bylaw Ms. Robinson proposed would limit multiple signs on a directory sign not to exceed three square feet each. The directory sign itself must be located within 2,000 feet of the businesses advertised, with no illumination. The bylaw would prohibit signboards on any public property, and if located on private property, require a permanent and perpetual easement from the owner(s).
Ms. Robinson submitted her proposed changes to the Planning Board, with the expectation they would be incorporated into an article on the April town meeting warrant. Although other articles generated by the planning board appeared on the warrant, Ms. Robinson's did not.
The board's inaction was not a deliberate slight of Ms. Robinson, explained Planning Board Chairman Tony Peak, but due to the fact that other issues took priority. "I don't have any problem if the bylaw is changed for people in a very unusual circumstance like this, who have no ability to put signs out on the road," Mr. Peak said. "If that's going to come about, we want to be pretty careful about how it is allowed."
Although Ms. Robinson could get a petition signed to put the article on the warrant without going through the planning board, Mr. Peak said a public hearing about the proposed zoning bylaw change would be required before town meeting.
Mr. Barwick said Ms. Robinson would more likely be successful working through the planning board. In his experience, voters more often approved warrant articles put forth by town boards rather than petitions.
Ms. Robinson said Mr. Barwick has been very helpful in working with her on drafting a new bylaw.
Despite the setbacks, Ms. Robinson plans to head back to the planning board. "This will be my third winter there," she noted. "It's frustrating."