March 16, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Stop the signs
By Dan Szczesny

The City Council is considering an ordinance that would ban all electronic signs.

Why the drastic all-or- nothing ordinance? After all, the city already bans signs with changing messages. The new proposal, though, would ban all electronic signs including those that show time and temperature.

Well, it turns out the city is being sued by a sign maker after the zoning board refused to approve electronic signs for a variety of businesses, including a car dealership and a couple restaurants. The new proposal is in response to that suit.

This seems like a small issue of little significance to anyone but the sign lobby and the business owners who want to promote their cars, food or gas.

It’s just the opposite. In fact, questions of aesthetics cut right to the heart of what makes Concord a livable city with a high quality of life for its residents, as well as the type of community a visitor would find appealing or a business would consider moving to.

Next Monday at 7 p.m., when the City Council meets to take action they should absolutely support and pass this important ordinance. Here’s why.

A step like this is the first piece of an overall puzzle that considers the city as a whole, as opposed to piecemeal design guidelines. Yes, several businesses already have LCD signs, the Capitol Center being the most obvious. The city’s Planning Board is justly concerned that continuing to allow such signage would damage the city’s look and feel, and therefore economic viability. So, draw the line now before Concord gets a nickname like Manch Vegas, the unfortunate moniker attached to the LCD-heavy city to the south.

Further, the idea that there is some First Amendment right to sell goods via an electronic sign is ridiculous. Concord, like every city, already has a variety of codes — size, type, street frontage, etc. — regarding signs on the books. Banning LCD signs is no different than making sure a sign doesn’t block the sightlines of a motorist.

Finally, Concord is blessed with an abundance of historic buildings and a downtown other cities this size would love to have. The City Council need only look toward other cities such as Portland, Maine, or Princeton, N.J., to understand the benefit of such an ordinance. Those cities apply such strict guidelines in certain areas of the community that such decisions as paint color and text font are controlled.

With big improvements on the horizon such as Capital Commons, Concord is at a crossroads. Now is the time to determine how city leaders want Concord to look and feel not just to visitors but to the residents who live in and love this city.

Here’s my suggestion to city staff: put the City Council on a bus and drive them down to Manchester’s south Elm Street or Second Street on the West Side. Take them at night so councilors can experience the full impact of what LCD signs can do to a city. Then drive them home, and pass that ordinance.


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