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Though the sign to Robie's Country Store has long-since been grandfathered into Hooksett's current ordinances, new store owner Tom Walsh was one of the main architects behind the new sign ordinance proposal, which voters will see on the May 13 town ballot. (RYAN O'CONNOR/Union Leader Correspondent)

Sign ordinance up for a vote in Hooksett

HOOKSETT — For years, members of the Planning Board have fielded requests for variances to town sign ordinances that many business owners and potential business owners deemed restrictive.

Most of the requests are reasonable, said Planning Board member Tom Walsh.

That reality is reflected in the fact that the board has granted more than 90 percent of those variances, he said. Still, other would-be Hooksett business owners have taken a look at the regulations and chosen to take their entrepreneurial efforts elsewhere.

In a collaborative effort with the business community, Walsh said members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment, Economic Development Committee, Town Council and the public formed the Hooksett Sign Committee and spent months attempting to cut down on the variance requests and make Hooksett more business friendly by allowing more signs, larger signs and additional types.

“This conversation has been going on for a long time in town, even since before I joined the Planning Board a few years ago,” said Walsh, who headed the committee. “It’s been a huge endeavor, and there are some real comprehensive changes being proposed here that should be really good for businesses and for the economic development of the town.”

Walsh, who recently took over as owner of Robie’s Country Store, said three separate ordinances cover Hooksett — one for the Route 3A corridor, where his business is located, another for the Route 3 Performance Zone and one covering the entire town. The modified ordinance incorporates all three district policies.

“I think there was a concern Route 3 would turn into South Willow Street in Manchester,” said Hooksett Assistant Town Planner Carolyn Cronin. “But right now, there are some really restrictive business sign ordinance regulations, and that hasn’t changed much over the last several years, which is a problem, because most of these regulations were drafted before there was anywhere near as much development in town as there is now.”

One of the most significant changes removes a universal size regulation.

“Instead of doing a set size per building, we proposed changing to formula-based policy determined by the linear footage of a business’ frontage, so the sign is proportionate to the size of the building,” Cronin said. “If you look at a building the size of Shaw’s and then you look at a pizza place, it’s not really fair to force both businesses to have the same sign size.”

Monument and directory signs will also see an increase in maximum sign area and height in accordance with the number of tenants in a plaza.

In addition, the number of allowable signs at a business increases from one to three as long as the total sign space doesn’t exceed the maximum allowable area. Businesses with electric signs will also be able to rotate messages in eight-second increments, as opposed to 15 seconds. Awnings will be added to the definitions in the ordinance and will be allowed to include logos, but not lettering or text.

Many of the new regulations are also aimed at public safety. For instance, addresses are allowed to be included on directory signs, but must appear in the topmost part of the sign if it’s lighted to allow fire and police personnel to easily find a location when responding to an emergency.

“We looked at reports from the U.S. Sign Council — such as the size and height of signs and lettering — which is all important when you take into account how easily it is for people driving by to see these signs from the road, which is obviously helpful in terms of driver safety,” Cronin said.

The changes may not be as dramatic as they seem, said Walsh.

“There are just so many good reasons to do this,” Walsh continued. “This has been a lot of work, but it’s also been a lot of fun, and I just hope when the townspeople go out to vote (on May 13 that) they agree with our approach and support this.”

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