City Council extends sandwich board signs program

By Beth Treffeisen

Special to the Gazette

More work has yet to be done to figure out the rules and regulations governing sandwich board signs in Beacon Hill and the Back Bay.

After two years of hearings and working sessions, the City Council voted to continue the pilot program for another year to work out the tweaks in the amended ordinance that governs advertising on free-standing signs at a hearing on Wednesday, May 16.

The Mayor refiled an ordinance regulating free-standing signs back in the beginning of April, after the pilot program passed in 2015 expired.

“I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Councilor Michael Flaherty. “But we need to go just a little bit further.”

During a working session held on Friday, May 11, Flaherty noted there were still some problems needed to work out on the narrow sidewalks in Beacon Hill and the Back Bay. Specific rules that were outlined in the ordinance that worked elsewhere in the city didn’t quite fit with these neighborhood business districts.

Councilor Josh Zakim said it can get very difficult on Newbury Street when you have multiple businesses in one building vying for space on the sidewalk, creating both visual and physical clutter.

“The real issue here is making sure we are keeping our sidewalks clear for people with mobility issues using wheelchairs or walkers,” said Zakim. “I think it makes sense to continue this.”

Zakim said they made some real progress at the working session where members of the Back Bay Association, Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, the Newbury Street League and residents came to talk about the issue.

“We need to find a permanent fix for this to make sure that we know what is there, what business are there, and what they’re offering to customers,” said Zakim.

Sandwich board signs serve as significant marketing tools for small and local businesses. But many have stated concerns that they can interfere with sidewalk accessibility, especially on narrower sidewalks in the Back Bay and Beacon Hill.

The previous code amendments included the following requirements: Massachusetts Architectural Access Board Regulations to ensure accessibility and prevent interference with public travel, the sign does not exceed 24 inches by 36 inches, is not adhered or attached to any structures or fixtures, is constructed of weather resistant material, maintained in good condition, and is placed on the public walkway during the hours of operation.

The sign also needs to identify the name, address, and telephone number of the business, merchandise for sale at the location of the sign.

In addition, the sign cannot display an advertisement for alcohol or tobacco products.

“I’m supporting this amendment, and I look forward to finding a complete solution after this pilot,” said Zakim.


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