Woodstock’s most recent land-use issue, signage at the redeveloped Woodstock Plaza (formerly known as Bradley Meadows), will have moved to its denouement by the time you read this. On Monday, October 14, Woodstock’s Commission for Civic Design (CCD) ruled in favor of a recent Zoning Board of Appeals decision allowing new signage for the four stores currently occupying the plaza, with room for two more.
Thursday, October 17, the town Planning Board followed suit, approving the sign for the complex.
But such approvals don’t mean everything’s running smoothly. Part of the concern regarding the ZBA-allowed sign had to do with the commission’s ongoing push to instill a more cohesive “streetscape” to Woodstock’s main hamlet roadways, including a better approach to signage. But that approach, backed up by a recent town building department push to enforce existing sign laws, especially where it concerns the proliferation of sandwich boards along local streets, has provoked pushback from local businesses.
“Every few years there is a push for enforcement of rules regarding some long-established business practices,” read a letter sent to town board and ZBA signed by representatives from 68 Woodstock businesses and non-profits as well as the secretary to the planning board and CCD, on October 11. “We request that such enforcement be suspended until such time as a proper review is undertaken. Any such review should include the input of members of the business community.”
The letter asks the town to consider allowing sandwich boards during business hours instead of enforcing “zoning laws regarding signage that have never before been enforced.” The businesses reason that such signs “direct people to harder to find businesses down side streets and on second floors; they contribute a liveliness and unique character to our town that is known for having a unique and lively character; a lot of stores and restaurants are open on days of the year that others aren’t so these signs can also be a valuable source for people to easily see something’s open when driving through or looking down the block; a lot of these signs advertise unique events, showings and performances that help the audiences find them; and businesses at the ends of town (west Tinker Street, Rock City Road, etc) benefit from sandwich signs to differentiate their businesses from residences or offices.”
The strongly worded letter also supports new signage at the newly renamed Woodstock Plaza, as well as at the Woodstock Playhouse, and purports that “any unelected board or committee must have representation of at least one business owner if providing any ‘advice’ regarding our actual town that is made up of businesses.”
“In closing, we’d remind the town that the restaurants, stores, galleries and businesses of Woodstock work tirelessly to create a thriving commercial district that we should all be proud of,” the October 11 businesses’ letter closes. “Our businesses not only directly contribute to our town with taxes, but also donate time, energy and funds to our schools, charities and town events all year long. We would like the board members of our town, elected and unelected, to return the favor by allowing us to conduct our businesses in the good spirit we have operated them in for years.”
According to CCD chair David Ekroth, the entire issue regarding signage in town, and improved streetscapes that their commission has been working on since last spring, will likely move now to the ZBA for more contentious meetings, possibly pitting town businesses against residents regarding a definable “Woodstock look.”
“You can imagine how hot an issue this is, especially for those who have been using [illegal] sandwich boards for years, claiming that without those boards their businesses ‘will fail,’ Ekroth added. “I hear this all the time.”
The CCD voted on October 1 to accept the same signage option okayed by the ZBA on September 26 for Woodstock Plaza to be placed in one location along Mill Hill Road with four signs hanging above each other within the metal frame and space for two more signs if needed. They thought that option was better than an original plan that was rejected or alternatives presented to the ZBA in recent months.
“Having one plaza sign along Mill Hill will be visually far better than two to four detached signs scattered up and down this important road,” Ekroth noted after the commission’s decision. “The CCD is not super-happy with this result, but it’s a good compromise given all the conditions, and it’s the best the CCD could do.”
He said the CCD “will remain diligent about its present mission to support the zoning law regarding signage in the village, improving the streetscapes, while supporting the business community with their concerns about advertising.”