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Town to regulate open signs in downtown

Town leaders are making no bones about it ­— they want downtown businesses to stay open later in the evening. But how establishments tell people they are open is also something town leaders want a say in.
The Historic Zoning Commission first looked into open signs in downtown businesses a year ago after receiving complaints about lighted — and in some cases, flashing — open signs in storefronts on Main Street.
Members of the HZC then requested a subcommittee of the Tree and Townscape Board look into the regulation of open signs altogether in the historic district.
Tree and Townscape Board member John Browning reported late last month on that subcommittee’s findings.
While some businesses utilize open signs that have a vintage look and “complement the appearance of historic downtown,” others use generic, commercial open signs that “detract from the historic look,” according to the subcommittee’s research.
“There’s plenty of nice, vintage looking open signs available,” Browning said in encouraging the HZC to require opens signs be compatible with the style and historic period of the building and the business.
The subcommittee also recommended open sign designs reflect the “rich diversity and the continuum of history seen in Jonesborough’s streetscape.”
A business would be required to garner a certificate of appropriateness from the HZC if the sign is located within 2 feet of the store window.
A question of legality may pose further problems in regulating the open signs of downtown businesses.
“If these signs are in the store window, then certainly there is no problem with regulation,” Browning said. “The question occurs if those signs are farther within the business. How far into a store those signs happen to be, that may change what we can regulate and what we cannot.”
As for whether open signs can be illuminated, Browning proposed two different options.
First, lighted signs could be prohibited entirely from the historic district.
The second option, however, might entice businesses to stay open later.
“If we had businesses open until 8 p.m. or 10 p.m., that helps us encourage people to stay the night. We want to get more overnight visitors. They are the ones that spend money,” Browning said. “Allowing them to have lighted open signs may be a way of encouraging, or certainly supporting, businesses that stay open later.”
The same subcommittee also took a look at flags used to signal a business is open.
“It’s a good, inexpensive way for these businesses to attract customers,” Browning said. “They are colorful and have motion.”
The subcommittee proposed regulations on the size of such flags as well as the location of them. Businesses would also be required to get the design of the flag approved by the HZC.
Members of the HZC’s own sign subcommittee will now take the proposed regulations into consideration for possible adoption by the commission.
Enforcement of the regulations will not begin until after the major downtown construction project is complete, leaders noted.