Our opinion: The Saga of The Sign

We’d like to reiterate Don Nelson’s words on the Crary Art Gallery sign debacle: “This has been way over-thought.”

Nelson, chairman of the Warren City Planning Commission, was being kind to the folderol that has enveloped a sign that even its detractors admit is tasteful, appropriate and necessary for one of Warren’s unique cultural resources.

Not so awfully long after the Planning Commission’s protracted research, debate and consideration leading up to the enactment of a city-wide sign ordinance, the Crary Art Gallery ran afoul of it by erecting a sign that was a bit larger than that permitted in the city.

Someone (accent on the second syllable) complained, and what followed was a political script that might have been written by an absurdist playwright.

Yes, the directors of the gallery were wrong not to thoroughly research the sign ordinance before erecting their sign. Yes, it is, in fact, contrary to the ordinance.

But, it’s a really nice sign. They appealed to City Council. Council was adamant: a law is a law. The sign has to go.

In an effort to save their work and expense, the gallery board looked at the ordinance, added a bar at the bottom to announce coming events, thus making it a marquee. A marquee is permitted in the ordinance for theaters and other entertainment venues.

To this gambit, a majority of council proclaimed that an art gallery is an educational institution and not an entertainment venue. This descent into philistine territory leaves us nonplussed, but frankly, from a purely subjective stance we believe the coming attractions bar detracted from the classy minimalist design that was so appealing.

Forward to today. The planning commission is sending to council an amendment to the sign ordinance the commission’s members believe will perhaps allow the offending placard to be restored to its original spot, while at the same time prevent Market Street from becoming a billboard jungle.

What this exercise in picking nits has taught us is that there were flaws in the manner in which a community-minded organization planned and executed something they hoped would benefit the community. It has pointed out an apparent flaw in the sign ordinance, hardly a unique occurance in the history of ordinance writing. It has pointed out just how obdurate some elected officials can be when someone disagrees.

And, let us all hope we can look back on the experience as a learning tool.