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Council approves LED signs for Big E


July 11, 2014

By Carley Dangona
carley@thereminder.com

WEST SPRINGFIELD – After months of continuances the Memorial Corridor Overlay District – formerly known as the Entertainment Resort Overlay District – was finalized. The biggest change it brings is the use of LED signs at the Eastern States Exposition (ESE), a feature not previously allowed in West Side.
   
Now that the zoning is approved, the ESE will proceed with implementing the new LED signage.
   
The other aspect of the Overlay District is the prohibition the following uses: adult establishments such as nude entertainment, hourly hotels, bail bond establishments, check cashing businesses, electronic gaming establishments, pawn shops and cash-for-gold stores and payday/title loan agencies.
   
The zoning amendment was initially part of the Hard Rock New England Resort Casino proposal, but then officials at the ESE agreed to continue the work after voters turned down the idea of bringing a casino to the ESE.
   
The public hearing on the Overlay District was initiated on Sept. 17, 2013 and was repeatedly continued until its completion during a special meeting of the Town Council on July 7. The council voted in favor of the zoning change after it approved changes to the language within the document.
   
The town recently established a Sign Ordinance Committee that is comprised of town officials from various departments to review the town’s sign ordinances and propose changes it deems necessary for the council to consider.
   
“But, one thing, I think, that is being missed: The Big E is different than every other place,” Town Council President John Sweeney said. “It is a unique attraction in West Springfield.”
   
At-large Councilor Bridget Fiala said, “I have a problem with giving to one when I’m not prepared to give to all. As a town, we do not allow LED signs.”
   
Fiala was the only councilor to vote against implementing the Overlay District after her motion to strike the sections allowing such signs was defeated. She thought it best to wait until the Sign Ordinance Committee reviewed the idea “as a whole.”
   
At-large Councilor George Kelly expressed that he was conflicted about the sign issue, but voted in favor of the Overlay District. “We’re almost schizophrenic in our approach to signs. It’s a tough decision to make,” he said.
   
Initially, Kelly wanted to wait until the Sign Ordinance Committee reviewed the matter, but the other councilors said that it was time to make a decision on the Overlay District.
   
Under Section 7.972 of the Overlay District zoning, the ESE can install a maximum of three freestanding LED signs at least 200 feet apart from each other within the Fairgrounds Sub-District at the Brooks Building, Gate 2 and Gate 9. All signs must face perpendicular to Memorial Avenue. The signs are limited in height and width. Setback of 10 and 25 feet are also required in the zoning language of the Overlay District.
   
Further restrictions are designated regarding the brightness of the signs, the content of the messages and backup power. The Brooks Building is now required to be attached to an emergency generator since the ESE is a designated emergency shelter for the town. This feature will allow emergency messages to be displayed on the sign in times of natural disasters.
   
After council approval, Section 7.952 Special Permit Uses now allows personal service establishments such as barbershops, takeout restaurants and tradesman establishments limited to 900 square-feet or less in size. Accompanying signs and parking are subject to current zoning restrictions. However, parking can be reduced by a maximum of 25 percent if the special permit issuing authority so chooses.
   
The Memorial Corridor Overlay District is bordered by the Westfield River to the west and south, the Agawam town line to the southeast, the Connecticut River to the east and Park Street and Park Avenue to the north. The Fairgrounds Sub-District of the district is bordered by the Westfield River to the south, Memorial Avenue/Route 147 to the west and north and the westerly side of Circuit Avenue to the east and northeast.

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