(6/19) Imagine going through Emmitsburg
and seeing one of the town’s beautiful historic buildings with shutters painted
hunter orange with bright green polka dots while the building next door has
handmade shutters stained dark with two words painted in black on each shutter.
Which shutters would you prefer?
In Emmitsburg, the orange shutters with
polka dots are allowed. The stained shutters with words aren’t.
In a situation demonstrating the
difference between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law, the Town of
Emmitsburg has told the owners of Main Street Sweets that their window shutters
are signs and must be changed or they will be fined $100 a day.
Wendy Gray and her partner Jennifer Wisner
have run Main Street Sweets on the Emmitsburg square since March 2006.
“They (the town) say since there’s
lettering on the shutters, they’re considered signs,” Gray said.
The shutters are considered signs under
the town’s newly revised sign ordinance because the words painted on the
shutters serve as an advertisement for Main Street Sweets. As signs, the
shutters violate the ordinance because 1) they aren’t permitted; and 2) no
signs are allowed on the second stories of businesses.
Mayor James Hoover agreed that the
shutters are attractive, but “We cannot legislate by how attractive it is.”
However, as signs, the shutters also meet
the spirit of the sign ordinance: “The intent of this section is to produce
signs which are non-obtrusive and blend with the character of the village
zoning district. The purpose of these signs are to advertise to pedestrian
traffic and vehicular traffic.”
Town Planner Sue Cipperly said she has no
problem with the shutters from a personal viewpoint but they are in violation
of the sign ordinance.
“Sign ordinances are very complicated and
they need to be fair and equitable and consider freedom of speech. They’re not
easy,” Cipperly said. She added that Emmitsburg’s sign ordinance is “not well
constructed in an easily usable way.”
Town Manager Dave Haller doesn’t
necessarily agree. He pointed out that when the sign ordinance was updated,
business community input was specifically sought in order to make the ordinance
Libby Briggs with the Emmitsburg Business
and Professionals Association said that the EBPA did provide its input, but she
believes there should still be a way to allow for something that nobody
Gray said her goal had been to make the
shutters attractive and something that that fits in with the town character.
“We purposely did it so it’s not
outlandish or distasteful,” Gray said. “It’s an old town. It’s an old building
and we wanted to keep it in that era.”
She said she even talked with Frank Henry,
the town’s code enforcement officer, about the town regulations before they
made the shutters and were told there weren’t regulations on shutters. Haller
said Gray didn’t mention that the shutters would have words on them; otherwise,
she would have been told that the shutters would be considered signs.
Haller suggested that Main Street Sweets
paint over the words or cover them in some way to keep the shutters. Then Gray
can apply for a permit to keep the words on the lower shutters. Hoover also
added that Gray might be able to get a text amendment to allow the shutters.
Gray said the town is nitpicking with this
whole situation. Haller said that town staff wasn’t going around looking for
violators, but they have to investigate complaints that are registered.
According to an e-mail acquired from a Freedom of Information request to the
town, the town received one complaint about the shutters and it was from
Planning and Zoning Commission member Patrick Joy.
Hoover said that despite this incident, he
still considers the sign ordinance business friendly.
Gray disagrees. “Basically the town is
pushing Jen and I out of town,” Gray said.
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