BRATTLEBORO >> Brattleboro Auto Mall hopes a sign promoting both its business and organizations within the community can stay up.
The Marble Dearlership Realty, which had submitted three applications for redeveloping the business on Putney Road, was denied permission to install an electronic changeable copy sign as a second ground sign. The group appealed Zoning Administrator Brian Bannon's denial of the permit.
Brattleboro Auto Mall General Manager Bob Gammon attributed the issue to confusion. He said he thought the sign had been included in the original site plan submitted in earlier permit applications associated with expansion at the business.
"We realized we made an error there," Gammon said during a Development Review Board hearing on Monday.
One decision allowed for the sign but the application was withdrawn and no permit was issued.
"Had a permit been issued, it would have expired on June 14, 2014," Bannon wrote in a memo to the DRB.
When a new application was submitted, the board took testimony on signs. The board's decision says the site plan included an electronic changeable copy sign.
"The permit did not explicitly note the sign as the then zoning code required, but this could be considered an administrative error on my part," Bannon wrote. "That decision expired on Aug. 28, 2014; an electronic changeable copy sign had not been installed by that date."
The application later was amended by Bannon with another application, which did not feature any changes for the signs. The permit expired on March 30, 2015, and the sign still had not been installed. Then another permit application, seeking permission to install a flagpole but no sign, came across Bannon's desk.
The violation for installing a sign without permission was issued on Jan. 20 after he said he observed the digital sign in late 2015 or early 2016. The dealership submitted an application on Jan. 28 to retroactively permit the sign and not be in violation.
"I denied the application because only one ground sign is allowed per parcel along any given frontage," Bannon wrote in the memo. "There is an existing ground sign on Putney Road; the new sign is a second sign. There had been a second ground sign but it was removed or destroyed. As it was non-conforming, it cannot be reestablished. Electronic changeable copy signs are only allowed with single color panels; the dealership's sign is multi-color."
The DRB has not yet ruled on the issue. The hearing for the appeal of Bannon's denial of a permit for the sign will be continued on July 18.
The electronic sign was purchased on Oct. 1, 2015, according to Gammon, and the town's sign ordinance changed in November. The sign came at a "substantial cost" and was expected to be installed earlier in the project but the project "got put off," Gammon said.
"Our contention would be that if we did know that we didn't have that permit, we would have submitted the application when the statute was what it was," he said. "Our intention from day one with our electronic sign was to use it for community service 75 percent of time, non-profit stuff."
Development Review Board Chairman James Valente advised Gammon to check the chronology before returning to the DRB on July 18.
"It's an interesting argument you make," he said. "It's not just one where I can look up the town ordinance."
In the memo, Bannon said the land use regulations treat sign approval as a strictly administrative procedure and offer the board no special regulatory discretion beyond imposing any additional restrictions on location or design found necessary under site plan review.
WKVT radio host Peter "Fish" Case, who helps promote area nonprofits and the community through his show, said he had talked with Gammon at one point about the sign.
"He had offered it up and just said, 'If you ever want to put something on there to advertise, that would be great.' All the nonprofits I come in contact with, he says he can put up on there and keep up until after the event," Case said. "We've received a lot of positive responses from people who have said, 'Of all places, I saw it on the sign at the Auto Mall.' I just happened to be at the DRB meeting when I realized that sign was at play and I said, 'That's ridiculous.'"
While understanding the ordinances keep Brattleboro from becoming "BrattVegas," Case said, the sign can help a lot of causes.
"It's a simple graphic. You put it up and it's one, two, three," he said. "We're hung up in that detail. It's just kind of silly."
Case called the sign "a nice resource to have," noting that AutoMall has been a "tremendous community partner" in terms of monetary contributions.
"This is just another way they chip in," he added.
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.