Over the past several months, the Planning and Zoning Commission has been conducting a review of Wilton’s sign
regulations.
According to Town Planner Bob Nerney, the reason for this is two-fold. One part is that there has been somewhat of a stir among business owners in town that speaks to the inefficacy of the
current restrictions.
“The other thing that’s happened,” said Nerney, “is that there was a recent U.S. Supreme Court case dealing with signage, specifically the issue of what you can regulate.”
That case was Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona. On June 18, the justices unanimously held that while content-neutral restrictions may be imposed on signs, any regulation that is content-based is subject to strict and implicitly unsurvivable scrutiny by the court. In other words, the signs of a church can’t be held to a different code than those of a gift shop in a
particular zone.

Public opinion


Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission Chris Hulse submitted a guest editorial to The Bulletin, published on June 11, that urged members of the public to share their comments and feedback concerning the current signage regulations by sending them to a temporary town email address that was kept open
until July 1.
“We didn’t get a great response,” said Nerney. “We got 17 comments during the 30 days we kept (the email address) open. There was no real, clear direction. Some thought that the regulations should be more lenient; some thought they should be more strict.”

The commission also contacted the Chamber of Commerce to solicit the input of its membership.
“They did not offer any comment,” Nerney said. “The chamber said that in talking with their membership, there were no pro or con comments.”

Findings


Although the commission was unable to get any sense of unified opinion from the public, it did compile a report that weighs Wilton’s regulations against those of the surrounding municipalities.
“The findings were that they are pretty much similar,” Nerney said. “Some communities are actually more stringent; others are less. We’re kind of in the middle of the pack in terms of regulatory policy when it comes to both types of signs,” “both types of signs” being permanent
and temporary.
For instance, Wilton’s permanent signs may only be illuminated by an external light source. The same is true of Weston and Greenwich, though Greenwich does allow the internal illumination of the individual letters of signs in certain business districts. Darien, New Canaan and Ridgefield all allow some degree of internal lighting, and Westport allows it outright, so, with respect to lighting, Wilton seems to be more towards the restrictive end of the spectrum.
In terms of size restrictions, on the other hand, Wilton looks to be more towards the “middle of the pack,” as Nerney said.
Size restrictions, and the formulas by which they are defined, vary largely from town to town, judging from the results of the report.
Wilton allows in its general business zone one freestanding sign with a maximum size of 18 square feet and one projecting sign with a maximum size of eight square feet per tenant.
Most of the other towns considered in the report, however, formulate their allowed signs by length of building frontage.
Darien allows one wall sign of one square foot per three linear feet of tenant wall frontage and one hanging sign of six square feet per building. Westport also allows one square foot of wall sign for each foot of building frontage (per tenant), capped at 50 square feet, and one hanging or projecting sign of two square feet maximum. Greenwich’s total allowable sign area is equal to two square feet for every foot of building frontage, capped at 25 square feet for businesses within 35 feet of the street and 40 for those beyond 65 feet, as well as one rear entrance sign facing parking areas that can be sized up to six
square feet.
New Canaan allows one wall sign not more than 25 square feet in size.
Weston is similar to Wilton in that it defines a maximum size restriction for signage regardless of building frontage. Weston allows one wall sign of 12 square feet and one shopping center sign of the
same dimensions.
Wilton, thus, allows for larger wall signs than does Weston, and for a greater number of signs per tenant than does New Canaan.
Because their size stipulations are calculated per foot of linear building frontage, businesses in Darien, Greenwich and Westport can have larger signs than Wilton, but they can also be limited to smaller ones. In these towns, everything depends on the space leased by the tenant.

Nerney’s opinion


The commission discussed the signage review at its meeting on Sept. 28.
Because both the response from the public and the results of the report were relatively “inconclusive,” as Hulse termed them, Nerney suggested the commission wait to modify the regulations until the American Planning Association (APA) made official recommendations based on the outcome of the aforementioned Supreme Court case.
Hulse, however, wanted to push the process forward, and was not inclined to wait for the APA’s direction.
“I think your ideas would be as good as any,” said Hulse to Nerney, prompting him for his opinion.
“Try to encourage, maybe, banner signs, more graphic-type signs,” Nerney said. “That’s the kind of thing that has a little bit of charm; I can picture that working well downtown. We also have the Stop & Shop development where buildings have entrances on both sides, and our regulations don’t
accommodate that.”
“One of my thoughts was to take all of the signage up by School Road and (Route) 7, get rid of them all, and have some sort of changeable copy ... but again ... I don’t think that would be permissible,” Nerney added.
The commission will further discuss the review at its next meeting on
Oct. 13.