OLD LYME — A motley collection of signs populates the grassy expanse in front of the Old Lyme Shopping Center, and many appear to have been there for years.
“Nobody asked for a permit for any of these signs – we’ve got 10 signs, zero permits,” zoning enforcement officer Eric Knapp said on May 9, as he surveyed signs of various shapes and sizes that included advertising for a deli, a taqueria, a beach cleanup, space for rent and a plant sale.
Some are A-frames, which are required to be taken inside each night according to town regulations, he said, but none have moved.
Knapp counted numerous “for rent” signs, all with the same phone number, stuck in the grass along the front of the plaza.
“You’re allowed one ‘for rent’ sign,” he said. “We have three ‘for rent’ signs and two of them are A-frames.”
Knapp said he must work with the landowner about the sign violations, as his jurisdiction is not over the shopping center tenants.
Knapp, a former land use attorney and previous zoning enforcement officer in Clinton and Westbrook, said he wants to raise awareness about the need for sign permits amid a town committee’s plan to reinvent Halls Road as a walkable village district.
“If you’re the Halls Road Committee, I’m guessing this isn’t what you want Halls Road to look like. You’re trying to create a unified project here of what makes it walkable. No one’s going to walk along this and no one wants to see all of this,” he said. “For the main commercial strip in Old Lyme, this isn’t the visual image we’re trying to create. Everybody in town has to go shopping and it looks like this, which is not really what we’re trying to make it look like.”
Since he started his position in Old Lyme, Knapp said he has granted “maybe two” sign permits.
“So anything that’s within the last year or so, no one’s gotten a permit for it,” he said. “No one has really done anything to enforce it, so people don’t think they need to do anything.”
A permit requires a one-time fee of about $30 and lasts indefinitely if the town’s regulations are followed, he said.
Knapp said the town can’t control the design and appearance of signage except on Lyme Street, which is a state-recognized historic district regulated by the Historic District Commission.
“They have greater powers to do these things than I do because they’re statutorily an approved historic district. They don’t have infinite powers, but they have more powers than I would have to regulate what a sign looks like,” he said.
Along Route 156, Knapp also pointed out swoop signs, or feather signs, which are not allowed in Old Lyme. He identified a number of leaning signs and more A-frames that are not being brought in at night.
“Theoretically some of this stuff could be approved if people came in for it, but no one’s ever coming in for these things,” he said.
At the shopping plaza, Knapp counted two signs on the same lot for the same event, plus a number of other signs.
Event signs must abide by certain regulations as well, he said.
“I’m probably not going to be out here tracking the days, but in theory, you get to have it 30 days before and seven days after, but then it needs to go away,” he said.
Looking at the signs along Halls Road, he said, “It’s all just a wild proliferation.”