Civic Design Commission clashes with Woodstock ZBA over signage

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

The Woodstock Zoning Board of Appeals has been in the midst of an existential exercise of late. Following deep analysis and key decisions on the propriety of several code enforcement issues in recent months, they’re currently weighing the pros and cons of new signage for the changing Bradley Meadows shopping center and its growing main business, Sunflower Natural Foods, while simultaneously taking into account a growing push by Woodstock’s Commission for Civic Design (CCD), as well as the town’s Tree Committee, to straighten up the look of the town.

Along the way, the pending ZBA decision regarding signage at Bradley Meadows and Sunflower, near the unofficial entrance to Woodstock, will decide whether the town’s long history of citizen commissions remain vital or end up being rendered essentially toothless.

The issue’s been before the ZBA at its recent meetings July 25 and August 8, with architects Jess and Les Walker asking for more and larger signs to advertise the various businesses at Bradley Meadows, which are expected to eventually include two new subtenants of the bank portion of the building that also hosts A&P Bar and Woodstock Healing Arts. 


A previous application for a larger sign on the property was denied by the ZBA. But Sunflower did receive an okay for a larger sign last year, before the current request for a second Bradley Meadows sign came up. 

Gordon Wemp

At the July 25 public hearing, no one from the public spoke but the ZBA discussed the matter of signs at some length, much of it in response to Les Walker’s comments that more signs make for a more interesting streetscape. ZBA member Gordon Wemp made observations that this was after all the only “shopping center” in town and they were pretty far off the road, and ZBA member Jude Sillato made a request that everything be checked through the CCD first. The public hearing was closed except for written comments received before the next meeting.

The entire issue came up again on August 8, although discussion did not include two pieces of correspondence regarding the Bradley Meadow signage from the town’s tree committee and CCD.

“It is all too rare that one Woodstock town commission/board communicates with another town commission/board,” started off the Design Commission’s letter. “We have recently been bombarded by complaints from the public regarding excessive, and in some cases, illegal signage, billboards, illegal posting of notices on telephone poles, illegal sandwich boards, mis-matched waste receptacles, weed-choked broken sidewalks and general messiness of our village streetscapes. In response, the CCD is on a mission to have the Town Zoning Law enforced and thus encourage a collective effort between the Town Board, Town Highway Department, arts organizations, the Chamber of Commerce, business owners, tenants and other interested parties to collaborate in an effort to create a more welcoming and harmonious center of the Village.”

More specifically, the commission’s five members — Cornelia Rosenblum, Joan Elliot, Jim Dougherty, Geoff Harden and chairman David Ekroth — noted the town’s zoning law regarding signs, and urged the ZBA to not grant variances on the sign requests. 

“The CCD suggests four (4) directional signs at the eastern entrance to Bradley Meadows not exceeding 18” X 24” each. This will conform to the above cited Town Of Woodstock Signage regulations,” the letter ends. “These directional signs could also be smaller. For example, the directional signs at the entrance to Comeau Drive for Municipal Parking and The Shakespeare Festival are each 20” wide X 8” high and are perfectly readable.”

In a separate letter, Michael Veitch of the Woodstock Tree Committee wrote that no matter the size of a sign being considered, what was being proposed would harm existing trees around the Bradley Meadows property.

“Sunflower has already installed an ornamental stonewall on concrete footings. When they did that, they cut significant roots that belonged to the tree to the west of the proposed sign. In order to put any upright sign at the proposed location more digging and poured concrete will be necessary for the posts. The trees already have had their roots cut and have already had the amount of soil available to them greatly decreased by the concrete under the stonewalls. Further damage is not acceptable to the Tree Committee,” reads the letter, accompanied by a number of photos. “The Tree Committee is very opposed to any further digging in the tree pit area. We respectfully suggest that we all do what we can to save the trees that line our main street.”

Who’s purview? 

Wemp and others on the ZBA decried the comments from the CCD and Tree Committee even before they’d read the committees letters, saying their members were stepping into others’ purview and matters of legal interpretation. The issue was expected to return at their next zoning meeting on August 22.

“This sign if installed would add more visual clutter ON TOP OF those day-glo pedestrian crosswalk signs the NY State DOT recently installed,” countered Ekroth for the town board-appointed CCD, which operates as an advisory board for the town planning board.  “The CCD remains focused on cleaning up the 212/375 Gateway area: remove the illegal ‘Chamber billboard’ (on private property); relocate the Playhouse sign; relocate the Cucina sign; add a NEW ‘Welcome to Woodstock’ sign. We are also concerned about sandwich boards, etc.”


Paul Smart