SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The community will now have the opportunity to turn the lights on or off on LED signs in the Wakefield commercial district.
The town council was preparing to make its final decision on whether businesses can advertise using LED electronic, message board signs on Feb. 23. After the recommendation of the Planning Board, that decision will be put off until Aug. 27 to allow for public input.
The town council Monday night approved the planning board’s recommendation with the addition that it will schedule a public education meeting on Feb. 15 to meet with sign companies on how to regulate LED signs’ brightness and illumination.
The issue that pins those who want to keep the quaint village character of South Kingstown in place against those who seek to make businesses more competitive in the 21st century stems back to September 2010 when the town council initially asked the planning board for clarification on the ordinance. This is the fourth time the sunset date on revising the ordinance has been extended, each time for the sake of gathering more information on the use, safety and value of LED signs.
The current zoning ordinance, Article 8, prohibits signs which incorporate flashing or moving illumination, animation or color illumination in all zoning districts. This includes electronic messaging boards, LED (light emitting diode) type signs and changeable copy signs. The LED signs at the CVS on Kingstown Road and Wakefield Prescription are exempt from this prohibition since they were grandfathered before the Zoning Ordinance was reviewed.
At the last public hearing on Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, the Planning Board recommended the ban of flashing signs, feather type signs and electronic changeable copy signs citing their inconsistency with the character of Wakefield. However, the recommendation was met with fierce resistance from the business community, who argued that LED signs are safer for employees and better for the environment. In the end, the town council decided to extend the sunset date to February and have the planning board research how signs could be regulated and how much savings they generate for businesses.
The 65 businesses in the 101 acre commercial highway district from Dale Carlia to the Old Mountain Lanes and beyond the police station on Kingstown Road, are the ones to be affected by whatever the planning board and town council do eventually decide.
The newest planning board recommendation, formalized at the last meeting on Jan. 10., extends the current ordinance’s expiration date by six months from Feb. 27 to Aug. 27. The six month extension would allow the town to conduct a comprehensive review of the entire sign ordinance, including current prohibitions concerning flashing, LED and electronic messaging boards.
The extension would also allow the town to conduct a review for the public to engage in similar to the one used by the Healthy Places By Design grant program. The planning board agreed that this public engagement process will simplify, clarify, modernize and better correlate its provisions with the Town’s Comprehensive Community Plan and lead to a more informed decision process concerning amendments.
The last time South Kingstown’s sign ordinance has been reviewed thoroughly was in the mid 1970’s. According to Director of the Planning Department Vincent Murray, in a letter to the Town Manager, the planning board noted that recent developments underscore the overall sign ordinance’s failure to keep pace with technological innovation, necessitating a need for review.