The Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) Signage Subcommittee met again on Dec. 5 to continue its discussion regarding the moratorium placed on the location of sandwich boards on public ways in the architectural district. The moratorium is set to expire on Dec. 31, so the committee had to come up with a solution to present to the full BBAC at its Dec. 12 meeting for a vote.
The proposal agreed upon by the committee by the end of the meeting was that all current sandwich boards in the commercial area of the district would be banned as of April 1, 2020. Additionally, the BBAC “will approve a standard design for display boards,” which will be reviewed and approved administratively by BBAC staff with no public hearing process required, provided they meet the following: “one display board per  feet off building frontage,” the location must be on a private property (“locations on public property will be approved on a case-by-case basis at locations where it is physically impossible to locate a display board on private property”), display boards are only allowed outdoors during business hours and must be brought indoors at night, and “display boards must be approved by the property owner whose signature is required to complete an application for a display board.”
“We don’t want to put anyone out of business with this direction we’re going in,” said BBAC Chair Kathleen Connor. Since the banning of the signs and the new standard will not take place until April 1 of next year, it gives businesses and the Commission time to transition into the new guidelines and work towards something that works well for everyone. Additionally, this program would be a one-year pilot program.
There was some discussion around the term “case-by-case basis.” Meg Mainzer-Cohen of the Back Bay Association said she feels that the term is a good one, and “somewhat pushes the landlords to be more open” to the idea of display boards.
BBAC Commissioner Robert Weintraub said that since all projects have to go thorough the BBAC anyway, the use of “case-by-case” is necessary because it is already implied. However, he also said that taking that language out might be “too restrictive.”
“If we want to sell this to the Commission,” he said, “we have to present it in such a fashion that they can swallow it and approve it.”
Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission Joseph Cornish said that: language needs to remain because “I need to have some way to have control…people still need to go through the Landmarks Commission [to get these boards approved].”
BBAC Commissioner Patti Quinn said she has never liked the display boards but understands that “they’re trying to create a win-win situation.” She added that she was “a little nervous” that landlords will decide not to allow these board on private property just to get them out onto the public way. “Alternatives are a good thing to have,” she said. “Even sandwich boards on private property could be obstructive.”
Several business owners have come to previous subcommittee meetings, saying how vital the signs are to their businesses. On the other hand, some tenants and landlords don’t feel the need to have the boards to help their sales.
“How do you measure success with sandwich boards?” Connor asked. “We need to take a look at the viability down the line. That’s a consideration when we get deeper into this.”
Originally, the presentation to the full Commission was going to include a proposal for fixed directory boards as well, but the subcommittee decided to hold off on that portion, because Weintraub said that a fixed directory should be part of an overall signage plan, and it was also said that fixed directory signs have to go through zoning to be approved.
As far as the “standard design for display boards,” this is something that the Commission will work on next. They want to get the guidelines approved and will then come up with the design or designs for the boards.
“We’re going tp have a good, clean design [for the boards],” Cornish said. “This is an evolution; we’re coming to a compromise here for one year,” Connor added. “It’s a pilot