Selectmen replace petitioned Sign Ordinance article
By a vote of 3-1Monday evening, Bethel selectmen chose not to put a controversial article to abolish the town's Sign Ordinance on the warrant for next week's annual town meeting.
Instead, voters will be presented with the following article: “To see what sum of money the town will vote to raise and appropriate for the purpose of hiring an accomplished consultant specializing in Sign Ordinance issues to facilitate and direct the Committee for Sign Ordinance Reform (C.S.O.R.) in its revision of the Bethel Sign Ordinance. (Ch. 136) of the Town Code.”
The new article replaces on the warrant an article asking simply: “Shall the Town vote to repeal the Sign Ordinance (Ch. 136) of the Town Code.
The latter article was generated by a petition signed by 133 residents and presented to the selectmen last month.
The petition called for eliminating the Sign Ordinance “as it is now written.”
In prepared remarks Monday, Selectman Don Bennett said: “That petition was considered illegal by some, flawed by others, and also, by many who signed it, 'It was a message I was sending.'”
Bennett said the selectmen, who had long acknowledged the present ordinance was flawed, got the message.
The problems with the ordinance were “brought front and center by the petition,” he said, and it generated a vigorous debate that breathed, with help from the selectmen, new life into the ongoing but moribund effort to improve the current ordinance.
“Let's quickly look back on the board's path here. This board, I believe, gave life to this process by acknowledging the outcry of those petitioners, by following a process which allowed for a spirited public hearing, and by simply allowing some time for coffee shop debate.
“From this we have all gained some insight, and, I think, a clearer thought process to move ahead.
“We now have a more vivid picture of what this community, and more importantly, what its businesses want and desperately need.”
But, he said, the problem would not be solved by throwing out the current ordinance.
“There has simply been too much time and energy put into this ordinance to just toss it out. There is also a tremendous task ahead to repair it.”
Bennett went on to move that the selectmen authorize Town Manager Jim Doar to form and charge a “Committee for Sign Ordinance Reform,” and that the petition-generated article for abolishing the ordinance be deleted from the warrant and replaced by the article quoted at the beginning of this article.
But Selectman Bob Everett argued that the petitioned article should be left in for voters to pass judgment on.
“Instead of taking Article 8 and completely removing it from the warrant, I'd like to leave Article 8, and
put in an article before Article 8 to raise the money to do exactly what Don was talking about. That will give the Town of Bethel the opportunity to vote on an article to try and help get this rewritten, by raising the money for it, and it would also give the town the opportunity to express their opinion on Article 8.”
He motioned to amend Bennett's article to do that, but the motion failed for lack of a second.
Bennett's motion then passed, with Bennett, Pat Carter and Chairman Stan Howe voting in the affirmative, and Everett voting against.
Selectman Lloyd Sweetser, who had signed the petition, abstained.
The selectmen then went on to vote that they recommend the town raise $10,000 for hiring a signs consultant.
Later, during the “Selectmen's Comments and Concerns” portion of the meeting, Bennett said: “We're going to do our very best to get this thing up and running after the town vote. These businesspeople need help. There has to be movement here: the size a little bigger, a little more creativity allowed.
“I just want to publicly say that I'm going to be all over it.”