Planners tackle the Crary sign

The City of Warren Planning Commission addressed the Crary Art Gallery sign conundrum with a two-pronged approach Wednesday morning.

Commission Chairman Don Nelson said he wanted to “start anew” in dealing with the long-running debate over a sign that was too large for the existing ordinance and whether it met the definition of a marquee.

He said that the sign ordinance is a “living document, and we have the opportunity to change it if and when we want to,” although in the end it is up to city council.

Commission member Pat Scutella agreed, saying, “We have to end this today.”

He asked if changes could be made to allow each future instance to be assessed individually, and City Manager Nancy Freenock replied that the “criteria (for the ordinance) cannot be subjective and must be objective.”

She acknowledged that there are ambiguities in the ordinance, but any changes should not be a “patch fix.”

Freenock added, “I love the sign, I think it’s great.”

Nelson read, several times, a change to the marquee sign portion of the ordinance, as proposed by Councilman Sam Harvey, and slightly amended by the commission after a lengthy debate as to its wording, to read, “Any sign attached to the entrance, or adjacent to the entrance of a building for the purpose of identifying a venue for the fine arts, performing arts or a movie theater or similar place of entertainment.”

Commission member Ray Pring, who is also on the board of directors for the Crary Art Gallery, said that case law in over 20 other cases gave a “very broad definition of marquee, but let’s focus today on Mr. Harvey’s proposal,” although he worried that the definition would be “narrowed with minutiae.”

Nelson urged the commission to “look forward, not back,” and he, too, worried that some people will still view the issue as political.

He added, “This has been way over-thought.”

The commission voted unanimously to send the revised proposal to city council.

Nelson then introduced two new sign options for the ordinance, free of and separate from the marquee designation.

“The options,” he said, “would create a new category for art museums and galleries and would have nothing to do with marquees.”

After some debate on sizes and sign locations, the commission agreed on language to read “Maximum 1 sign, illuminated indirectly by a hooded light source or backlit, up to a maximum size of 50 square feet.”

A proposal to have the lights extinguished by 10 p.m. was struck down after commission member Bob Dilks said he would play the devil’s advocate and asked if the time limit should also apply to the county courthouse and churches on Market Street, and Nelson asked if the time limit should also apply to Christmas lights on residences.

The commission voted to send the sign option to council, giving it another avenue to address the issue should it desire to.

Dilks said before the meeting was adjourned, “The Crary has provided us with a window (to address issues) in the future. As a personal citizen, I don’t care what it is zoned, because it was tasteful, not intrusive and an asset. We need to be looking to the future, not the present or past when we look at these things.”