Concord developer hits rut in highway-visible sign request

  • A mock-up of what Concord Antique Gallery’s new sign is expected to look like if approved. The sign would be visible from Interstate 93. Courtesy

  • New boutique hotel, Hotel Concord, set to open on South Main Street this summer. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 3/23/2019 5:17:56 PM

The second downtown Concord sign visible from the interstate has run into some roadblocks.

Tom Balon, the landlord for the Concord Antiques Gallery, requested this week that the Planning Board reconsider its denial of his request to put a sign visible from Interstate 93 on 14 Dixon Ave. The antique consortium is expected to relocate to the Dixon Avenue building in the spring.

To do so, Balon had to secure variances from the city’s zoning board to allow a sign above a building’s roof ridge and higher than 25 feet above grade. The sign was to be internally illuminated with “Concord” in red neon and “Antiques” in white.

The Planning Board ultimately decided to reconsider Balon’s request, but the city’s land use boards have been wary about letting signs visible from the downtown proliferate too quickly.

Architectural Design Review Committee members expressed concerns last month that the sign might be too big, despite it being 60 square feet, well within the city’s 100-square foot limits. They also worried about setting a precedent of having signs break roof lines and requested that the white part of the sign be less bright, February meeting minutes show.

Those concerns formed the basis of the Planning Board’s initial rejection of Balon’s sign. But Peter Imse, an attorney with Sulloway and Hollis, said the design review committee’s objections to the sign’s design don’t supersede the variance granted by the ZBA.

“The reasons articulated by design review committee during that process and by this board were inconsistent with those rights,” Isme said Wednesday night.

Isme went on to say the committee can’t be used as a “blank check for the city to ask applicants to do whatever they want” or to put restrictions on a project arbitrarily. While the committee can talk about the style of the sign, regulations about height are governed by zoning.

The amount of input the city can have on a sign’s design is limited – architectural guidelines on the city’s website date back to 1990 and say little on the subject.

The document states “every sign should be an integral, subordinate element” of the building and not overpower it. Materials should fit with the building’s design, and the number of colors should be limited. Logos and graphics should be “incorporated into the overall sign and not become the sign itself.”

Balon argued in January that a sign is critical to the cooperative’s success. It’s already difficult to see 14 Dixon Ave. due to its squat nature and being bracketed by the Legislative garage and the Loudon Road bridge, as well as its location behind the Ralph Pill Marketplace.

The city has other signs visible from the highway, including those in the Storrs Street shopping plaza signs and the Holiday Inn’s green logo peeking above Stickney Avenue. But all of those required variances and none are within Concord’s historic downtown region.

The Hotel Concord brought the issue to the forefront last year when it secured a variance for its own white sign visible from I-93. That sign is a little different, as it is located between the fourth and the fifth floors of the Capital Commons building.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)


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