Not a good sign: Business owners seek to expand, enhance Darien’s signage regulations
DARIEN - Since opening its doors last month, Shake Shack has seen a steady stream of customers looking to buy a burger. But just over six months ago, the town’s signage regulation nearly stopped the plan to build the eatery.
The debate, which took place among the Zoning Board of Appeals, centered on the size of Shake Shack’s lettering and quantity of signs. It was ultimately resolved in June 2016, though not without significant concessions on the part of Shake Shack, leading many in town to question the practicality of existing regulations.
As a result, the Planning and Zoning Commission has hired independent contractor Planimetrics to review and update the town’s sign regulations. In order to start the dialogue, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Susan Cator invited local business leaders and residents to Darien Library on Jan. 26 to discuss the future of signage in Darien with Glenn Chalder, of Planimetrics.
“This is our chance to have an effect on the signage in our town for the future,” Cator said.
According to Chalder, Darien’s zoning regulations allow for three categories of signage: wall signage, often sign on façade, facing the street; detached signing, which is often a hanging sign or one displayed near the street; and special signs, which could be opening or banner signs.
The cultivation of a photo library, comprised of examples of acceptable local signs in each category, was suggested for use as a guiding document both to expedite the process of sign approval and to better instruct business owners on what is and isn’t permissible.
“Sometimes the process of getting a sign permit takes time. So the concept is, the application goes into town hall, staff reviews it, and they schedule it for a meeting of the Architectural Review Board. They don’t meet every day. They meet once or twice a month. And so the issue is, you’ve got to wait for them to meet to set your sign’s OK. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a visual library saying, the following signs are fine? And you can be out quickly,” Chalder said.
Signs not fitting neatly into the three established categories and not easily verifiable by the photo library would go through the process of sign approval as it is currently set up.
Greater sign flexibility for businesses in downtown Darien was also suggested, especially off-site directional signage for Tokeneke Road stores not easily visible from Post Road and for businesses on the east side of the railroad trestle.
“The signs that aren’t around the new downtown, the happening area, really need some help,” Cator said. Chalder, however, said that, because off-site signage can be more difficult to manage, most communities look for other solutions, like downtown maps distributed by the Chamber of Commerce.
Chalder also said that efforts to build further back off of Post Road to make the downtown more walkable and making parking easier would be a boon to downtown businesses.
“Darien is such a unique downtown. We have so many things other people don’t have,” Chalder said. “We want people to explore, to linger, to shop, to spend. But they don’t know there’s more to see in different areas.”