BBAC Subcommittee Continues Discussion about Signage

Several tenants and property owners on Newbury St. are eager to get the guidelines for signage changed within the Back Bay Architectural District. A subcommittee of the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) met last August regarding discussion of signage guidelines in the commercial area of the district, and met again on June 6 to continue the discussion.

At the last meeting, those in attendance were encouraged to come back with solutions to the signage issues in the district and what might be best for the streets in general or individual tenants. There are a plethora of differing opinions on the matter, and the purpose of the meeting was to get all the ideas out on the table.

“We were considering having a menu of options,” said Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission. These could potentially be approved for the guidelines, with the goal of better approved signage in the district.

“Each block is different on the street,” said Kathleen Connor, BBAC Chair. “Solutions won’t work for everything.” Safety considerations for signage (or sandwich) boards have also been raised by several members of the community, so much of the conversation was focused on what to do about them. “We want to not only survive, but thrive,” Connor said. “There’s an important opportunity in front of us to get it right.”

Solutions were heard one by one from stakeholders on Newbury St. and the Commission. Patti Quinn of the BBAC said she feels that signage should not include sandwich boards at all, as she thinks they contribute to too many objects and colors for people to look at on the street. “A greater number of choices can be overwhelming,” she said, however, she does not mind educational components on signs.

Meg Mainzer-Cohen of the Back Bay Association said that she would “love us to go through aprocess with BBAC to find something can get work and get approved as part of the overall signage package,” as she hopes to find better visibility for signs along the street.

Lisa Saunders of the BBAC said that she likes the idea of a cohesive branding of the street, “not having a mishmash of different types of signs that may not be that effective anyway,” she said. She suggested having a firm come in and come up with some ideas for the entire street. She also said she likes the idea of a more modern look, with the use of technology in place of the sandwich boards.

“Branding the Newbury St. corridor is a fabulous idea,” said Tom Trykowski, an architect on Newbury St, adding that it is “warranted and very appropriate.”

Not everyone thinks sandwich boards are the enemy, though. Allison DiCarlo, manager of Tea Forte at 91 Newbury St., said that her store has three of them outside her door. Though she admits they are all different and are not aesthetically pleasing, “people know we’re open because of the sandwich boards. Having something out there with our logo is extremely important for us.” She said she would really like to have some sort of signage outside her store.

Others talked about signage rules for other historic towns and how Boston might benefit from adapting something similar. Mario Cabrera, Property Manager for Lincoln Property Company, said that retailers in Alexandria, VA are allowed to put “much bigger signage on the building” and have larger blade signs. “More liberal building signage is needed.”

He also said that he’s heard “consistent feedback” that having some sort of directory or beacon where retailers can reach their consumers is something that would be helpful.

“One size is not going to fit all,” said Robert Weintraub of the BBAC. He said a directory would be appropriate for upper floor tenants, and could be backlit. For the lower level retailers, this is where there would be an opportunity for blade signs and band signs. He said that the Commission reserves the right to override the guidelines if a proposal does not adhere to them, and he said he encourages people to come in with their ideas that do not perfectly fit within the guidelines. He also said that sandwich boards “are appropriate if on private land or tree pits.”

“You’ve got to have a display board,” said Michelle Messino of the Newbury St. League. She said she believes that space and use should be left up to the landlords and tenants, but the signs should not be too “elaborate,” and she said that permanent signs would need to be maintained due to the weather, and some landlords will not be able to afford that. “We need to come up with a display board that works,” Messino said.

A Back Bay resident said that some of the sandwich boards “look very nice,” but if there are too many in one area, it can start to look “cluttered.” He said he wants people to be able to walk up and down Newbury St.

“[Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB)] is not against Newbury being retail, said Sue Prindle of NABB. “NABB is categorically opposed to sandwich boards in the public area,” due to the dangers of them blowing around and injuring people. She said that the organization is not opposed to the boards on a private way if they are regulated, and if they are going to exist, they “should be at least semi-permanent,” she said.

Someone else said that it was “absolutely ludicrous” that logos are not allowed on umbrellas in the district, as it does “punitive damage to restaurants.”

“The guidelines currently said ‘discouraged,’ but it’s turned into ‘not allowed,’” Mainzer-Cohen said. The discussion was around putting restaurant/business logos on the umbrellas, not corporations like Budweiser.

The group decided that it would be a good idea to revisit the guidelines for umbrellas, and it will be put on the July agenda of the BBAC. “The signage piece can give us immediate gratification,” Connor said about the overall BBAC guidelines. “The guidelines [as a whole] need to be revisited but the signage piece can come first and is a step in the right direction. Every meeting we want to go away with a step closer to the solution.”

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