Wilmington banners spark debate with state


WILMINGTON -- Banners are forbidden by the state to be hung up along Route 9 and a recent incident sparked a debate over whether exceptions could be made.

"It was brought to our attention by the southwest regional traffic safety investigator from the Highway Safety and Design Section that the town of Wilmington continues to hang banners across Route 9. He referenced the banner for Independence Day. This is in direct violation of Vermont State Statutes," VTrans District 1 Technician Marge Skinner wrote to Wilmington Town Manager Scott Murphy. "The state's right-of-way is presumed to extend upward to the sky. Therefore, on state highways, overhead banners are not allowed across the road."

In a letter replying to Skinner, Murphy referred to a statute that says banners could be exempt if they are signs to be maintained for not more than two weeks announcing an auction, or a campaign, drive, or event of a civic, philanthropic or religious organization.

Murphy went on to explain Wilmington's Fourth of July event banner was directing visitors where to park for a Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce sponsored civic event.

Although no formal actions could be taken due to lack of quorum, the downtown organization Wilmington Works Board held its Thursday meeting where the issue of not being allowed to hang banners was further discussed.

Attorney Bob Fisher said it was about having the town take over maintaining the road.

"All it is a power of play," he said.

The Selectboard had discussed that issue at a recent meeting, where Selectboard Chairman Jim Burke mentioned the state had asked Murphy multiple times whether the town wanted to take over maintenance of Route 9, which flows through Wilmington's downtown. Taking that over would give the town more freedom to hang banners and do what it wants aesthetically with sidewalks and crosswalks but the costs were largely unknown.

"It's no different than when I was on the chamber board in 1997. We went through the same stuff. Literally, we were being told we were going to be fined thousands of dollars," Wilmington Works Executive Director Adam Grinold said. "To suggest it's for the safety of the traveling public that you can't hang a banner but then if you take over the road, it's fine. I mean, the logic is flawed. It's either to force that issue or it's a local issue that's not been played out in the rest of Vermont."

In a letter to Agency of Commerce and Community Development Travel Information Council Chairman John Kessler, Grinold suggested it may be the latter.

"The state enforces rules in order to protect the safety of the public, not to arbitrarily enforce rules in one community and not another," Grinold wrote. "What public safety issue does the enforcement of this rule provide? Why is Wilmington's downtown being selected for enforcement of this rule within the state? Are other downtowns and communities being served notice on this issue? Or, perhaps, there is a management issue at the local level that could be handled within the agency, leaving us to hang a promotional banner three to five times a year for our flood recovering community."

Wilmington Works Board Co-Chairman John Gannon said he did not understand the ordinance at all and questioned just how far into the sky the state's jurisdiction could go.

"What if you're flying an airplane towing a banner up and down the highway. Is that illegal?" he said.

State Rep. Ann Manwaring was made aware of the issue and Grinold planned on bringing it up at the Vermont Downtown Annual Conference on Sept. 10 and 11.

In other business:

-- Replies to fundraising request letters were opened. Grinold estimated money raised before opening those envelopes was at $1,200 to $1,400.

"Certainly, we'll know more when we open those," he said.

In addition to the support from local residents, Gannon noted that second homeowners have also responded to the letters and said there was a good mixture.

-- Grinold spoke of a zip code survey currently being handed out. He plans on collecting all the surveys, which will inform the downtown organization of trends in town by tracking who visited in August and Labor Day weekend. Then he plans on collecting surveys during foliage season and again in February.

"We're taking a sample of who's here," Grinold said. "What's been big is people who are second homeowners. We're asking that. Where are you from and are you a second homeowner? Which could help inform our database for the future."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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