HIGHTSTOWN: A-frame signs will have to meet new standards

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
The Planning Board has recommended the Borough Council lift the moratorium on downtown business owners using portable A-frame signs to advertise.
“We will discuss this and come up with something for the business folks tonight so we’re not shutting them out,” Planning Board Chairman Fred Montferrat said at the board’s Sept. 16 meeting.
Mayor Larry Quattrone said he has no problem with a temporary renewal.
Leslie Koppel, executive director of Rise, a nonprofit organization that has its headquarters and several thrift shops downtown, asked the board what “temporary renewal” means.
Ms. Koppel said not having the ability to use portable signs hurts businesses, which should be able to pay the $45 fee for a permit to use A-frame signs to advertise downtown.
“In different communities from Princeton to Cranbury and Bordentown, portable A-frame signs are used in any number of configurations,” she said.
She said the signs help people walking around identify stores and alert people of special sales.
Noting that the council adopted the moratorium on the use of the A-frame signs in July, Ms. Koppel said, “I don’t think a lot of business may be aware of that yet. It’s not healthy for our businesses in town.”
The Planning Board requested the Borough Council issue the moratorium and cease issuing permits for the signs beginning July 1, according resolution 2015-163.
Councilman Charles “Lee” Stults, who is the council’s liaison to the Planning Board, said the moratorium was issued due to complaints that there was an overabundance of A-frame signs downtown.
“It was blocking some of the ways through so it was brought up to the Planning Board as to what to do about that,” Councilman Stults said. “A subcommittee set out and it went back and forth on that until we banned them altogether until we could figure out a way to design them in a way that works for everybody and have it clear as to where (the signs) could go.”
He said the Planning Board asked Downtown Hightstown, a nonprofit group dedicated to envisioning a new downtown lakefront, its opinions on the signs.
“Downtown Hightstown is absolutely on the side of the businesses of allowing these signs and that they could probably all work together to come up with some kind of description as to not only size but put some materials together like put two to three types of materials that we would like to see and some general information on what should go on the sign,” Councilman Stults said, adding that he is also a liaison to that group.
He said sometimes there is too much information on the signs and they get cluttered.
“Downtown Hightstown kicked it back to the Planning Board with the recommendation that the Planning Board revisit the ordinance and come up with a new ordinance that gives a little direction to businesses and some direction to what the (signs) should look like,” he said.
He said the construction official asked the council to consider the moratorium on new applications or renewals until such time that the Planning Board could revise the ordinance pertaining to the A-frame signs.
“It just so happens that between then and now there were no Planning Board meetings, and a couple applications came up for renewal,” Councilman Stults said.
The unintended consequence of the moratorium showed up pretty quickly, he added.
“We want businesses to have these and I think it is an opportunity to become something fun,” he said, adding that other towns have competitions about the creativity of the signs.
A total of 20 businesses currently have the A-frame signs, according to a list that Mr. Stults requested.
“It was not the intent to ban them. It was the intent to put a hold on them while we figured them out and redesigned them so we can issue permits,” he said. “Probably we shouldn’t have put a moratorium on (them).”
He said borough officials didn’t want to approve new signs when they knew the ordinance regulating them was going to change.
Councilman Stults noted that Jeff Bond, a landlord who rents to many business owners in town, said no businesses were contacted or questioned during the discussion.
He noted that it is very likely that business owners who currently use the signs will have to reapply for a permit to use them under the new regulations.
Mr. Montferrat said that once the new design is approved, all signs would have to comply within a certain amount of months.
“We will let the current ones go for another three months,” Councilman Stults said.
The fee to apply or reapply for an A-frame sign permit is $45. 