Mayor, manager call Crary request ‘disingenuous’

An application from the Crary Art Gallery for a marquee sign permit was tabled by Warren City Council at its meeting Monday evening after the city manager and mayor described the gallery’s hopes of approving the application before a major showing at the gallery on Aug. 30 as “disingenuous”.

The application will be discussed during a previously scheduled special meeting of council on Monday, Aug. 4.

By then, City Solicitor Andrea Stapleford is expected to provide council with information on whether the gallery’s sign meets the city ordinance of a marquee. Under the marquee application, council could have approved the application during Monday’s meeting, which council member Sam Harvey said he wanted to do.

“Let’s put this to bed,” he said.

Raymond Pring, Crary Art Gallery board member, told council an application for a marquee sign permit was submitted on July 15 for what is “in essence the old sign with addition.”

According to the permit, the new sign would be nearly 10 feet wide by 4.5 feet high and would now include a marquee across the bottom that is lit by an internal LED backlight on a timer no later than 10 p.m. The marquee would allow for six-inch tall interchangeable letters displaying the names and dates of shows at the gallery.

Pring said the city’s sign ordinance defines a marquee sign as “any sign attached to a marquee for the purpose of identifying a movie theater or similar place of entertainment.”

The gallery hosts a number events from art exhibits to workshops to lectures and youth days, Pring said.

“We believe we met all the requirements under the ordinance based on the definition of a marquee. I think we meet the definition” he said, adding that the gallery wasn’t asking for special treatment or handling from council.

“I have this question for you, have you gone back to the zoning or variance board?” Mayor Maurice Cashman asked. “I would like to have that question answered.”

“I have not gone back to the zoning board for a variance, no,” Pring said.

“I think that’s where your next stop should be,” Cashman said.

“There is no limitation or size for a marquee sign,” Pring said.

“I’m just asking you, have you been back to where you should start before you get here?” Cashman asked.

Stapleford said there are two types of signs that don’t require an application for a variance, one of which is a marquee sign and the decision to approve the application is from council.

“What I’m going to do, I’m going to ask this to be tabled for now and ask our solicitor to give us a legal opinion as to whether this meets the definition and size requirements,” Cashman said.

“City Council shall ensure the proposed sign is appropriate for the style, period, type, size, and scale of the building for which it is proposed. Council shall weigh testimony from other property owners in the vicinity regarding the merits of the sign. Council shall weigh whether the sign will enhance the traditional town character of Warren or detract from it in determining whether the sign shall be permitted,” Pring noted in his presentation to council.

Harvey said there are two issues whether the sign is a marquee and whether the art gallery is a place of entertainment.

“I would think the fact that it is lighted and is going to have removable letters that show what performances it’s having inside, it’s certainly not absurd that it could be a marquee,” he said.

Harvey said, if necessary, he would propose amending the sign ordinance to add “art gallery” after movie theater.

Councilman John Lewis said the examples of marquees in Pring’s presentation were at sites in town that would be zoned commercial, such as a theater and baseball park.

Pring said the sign ordinance does “not impose any restrictions on any zoning or any type of zoning for a marquee sign.”

“That’s just the way the statute is is written,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t go get a variance…the bottom line is from a purely legal standpoint, there is no definition of a marquee within the sign ordinance. There is no zoning issue, there is no size restriction in the sign ordinance. That’s the way it’s written. Our sign is larger, but it’s a different kind of entity.”

Cashman proposed tabling the application to allow for the solicitor to “make a very good decision for both parties.”

“If somebody would like to make a motion that we approve this I’d be happy to second it,” Harvey said.

“I would like still to table this because our solicitor has asked for additional time to look at this objectively…,” Cashman said.

Harvey asked Pring if waiting another month would “cause hardship on your side?”

Pring said the gallery would like the sign up in time for a major show on Aug. 30.

“To keep this topic open I am going to make a proposal that we approve this marquee sign for the Crary Art Gallery as proposed,” Harvey said.

“Second,” Councilman Dr. Howard Ferguson said, adding that council should attempt to see if it could agree the proposal is a marquee.

Pring told council that the art gallery has canvassed the residents around it about the sign.

“With all due respect, the sign has been up for almost a year, and so the board has had ample time to consider various positions on this issue…and so coming in and asking council to make a decision so you can have the sign up by Aug. 5 I believe is a little disingenuous…,” City Manager Nancy Freenock said.

“That’s how the application works,” Harvey said.

“That’s right,” Freenock said.

“So this is the proper channel,” Harvey said.

“I am still encouraging council to say give us some time for Andrea to go and research this…to say do it tonight, I think is a little disingenuous, to use that word. She should have some time,” Cashman said.

Cashman said the application could be added to the agenda for a special meeting scheduled for Aug. 4 at 5:30 p.m.

Harvey then withdrew his proposal to approve the application and the application was tabled.

“We believe that we’ve been open with the city, we’ve been working with them for a couple of months on this,” Pring said on Tuesday. “We believe we’ve gone through all the necessary procedures.”

Pring said he doesn’t fault council for trying to be thorough, “but we’re disappointed.”