Stonington board rejects digital billboard proposed for Route 1

Stonington — The Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday denied a variance that would have allowed the owners of Fleming’s Feed on Route 1 to tear down three traditional billboards and replace them with a much smaller, two-sided, digitally lit billboard.

The variance was needed because the town’s zoning regulations prohibit full internal illumination of a sign and ban signs that “use a technology capable of displaying digital, variable, or alternating messages and copy generated by any electronic mechanical or illuminated means.” Under the regulations, the proposed digital sign is allowed. A similar sign is located on Route 85 in Waterford.

Following a public hearing, the commission voted 3-2 in favor of the variance but it was not granted because four votes are needed for approval. Board members Virginia McCormack, James Kading and Mark Mitsko voted to grant the variance while members Russell McDonough and Jeff Walker opposed it. Before the vote, McDonough and Walker indicated they would support the variance if a stipulation was attached that the signs would be turned off at night but the other three members opposed the stipulation.

The proposed sign would have been 180 square feet, compared to the 900 square feet of signage that exists now.

During the hearing, Fleming’s attorney Dennis Ceneviva told the board that the new sign would eliminate or decrease the zoning nonconformities with the existing billboards such as their location in the state right of way, would meet flood elevation requirements and improve site lines for traffic leaving the site. In addition, town police and fire departments would have had access to post emergency notices on the billboard.

Board members debated whether the sign would be distracting to drivers.

Patrick Moukawsher, the owner of Import Auto located across the street from Fleming’s, told the board he had concerns about the project.

“It’s impossible to think there won’t be some sort of distraction. If there’s advertising on the sign, you want people to look at it,” said Moukawsher who is the former chairman of the town’s Board of Police Commissioners.

Police Chief J. Darren Stewart had expressed support for being able to post emergency messages on the board.

Ceneviva said that during his discussion with Stewart about the billboard, the chief did not express any concerns about any possible distraction for drivers. Mitsko said that if Stewart had a concern, he would have told the board.

A representative of the company that would have provided the digital sign told the board it would have crisp colors, would significantly dim as it got darker and light would be directed toward drivers and not to the surrounding areas.

Flemings could appeal the decision to Superior Court.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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