A sketch from Mayor Michael McCabe’s application shows how a new Westfield City Hall sign might look.

Reminder Publishing submitted image

WESTFIELD — Mayor Michael McCabe is seeking Planning Board approval to place an electronic sign in front of City Hall.

At the board’s May 5 meeting, Building Commissioner Carissa Lisee, representing McCabe, said the sign would be a “2-by-6 LED message board with some brick around it, trying to match the facade of the City Hall structure.” The LED message board, she said, would have a sharp resolution, and look like a TV screen. Its message can be controlled via an app. It could also be programmed to dim at certain hours.

The goal of the sign is to identify the building as City Hall. Currently, the building is identified only by arched lettering over the front entrances reading “Municipal Building” on one door and “Westfield, Massachusetts” on the other. There are also no numbers on the building for emergency responders.

In December, McCabe told The Westfield News that most people don’t recognize the building is City Hall, with some confusing it for a school. This is a problem, he said, as events there bring people from outside Westfield.

The sign would also alert drivers of meetings, events, emergencies and other pertinent city information, something McCabe said the city doesn’t do the best job with. It would replace an orange construction sign the city places on the front lawn.

“We’re just trying to make it a little more aesthetically pleasing, while trying to get information out to the public and identify City Hall,” Lisee said.

This is the second time McCabe has sought Planning Board approval for a sign. The first time, Planning Board members leveled multiple critiques at the sign over the course of two hearings, on Dec. 19, 2023, and Jan. 2 of this year. Board member Richard Salois was concerned about its size. In the first application, the proposed sign was larger, with a 3- by 7-foot electronic message board.

“It kind of overpowers City Hall by size of scale,” he said.

Board member John Bowen and Ward 2 City Councilor Ralph Figy both believed that if that sign were approved, it would set a precedent for other properties on Court Street to ask for electronic signs. The Court Street neighborhood has been described by Planning Board Chair William Carellas as a peaceful residential district.

“It’s a great New England look and I don’t want to detract from that,” he said.

Board member Phillip McEwan said such a sign could be appropriate in a higher-traffic location, such as East Main Street.

Believing it lacked the votes, the mayor’s office withdrew the application. At the time, McCabe said his office would like to take a fresh look at the project.

“If we need to revise and revisit that, that’s exactly what we’ll do at a later date,” he said.

During its April 16 meeting, the Planning Board, inspired by the ordeal, submitted a sign ordinance amendment for City Council approval.

“It gives the board more power to relax any regulations for municipal facility signs,” said City Planner Jay Vinskey.

The amendment would allow municipal buildings to get a special permit for a sign through site plan approval. The sign would still require Planning Board review and approval, but prevent the board from denying the applicant a sign.

The board would also be able to waive height, illumination and size requirements for municipal building signs. Message boards for those buildings would also be able to change their message every 10 seconds or more, without a special permit. They would still need a special permit for flashing lights, animation or scrolling.

Vinskey announced at the meeting that the mayor had submitted a new application, with a smaller sign. He said it was likely to proceed faster than the amendment, whose approval would be delayed by the City Council’s summer schedule.

The first hearing on the mayor’s new application happened May 5. Board members revisited their old criticisms of the sign setting a bad precedent and being out of character with the neighborhood, as well as saying it would be better served elsewhere. However, board members were generally more positive about it than last time.

“Are we not setting the precedent that lit signs in the Court [Street] district are OK?” asked Bowen.

“Nope, it’s case by case and we’re approving it with the understanding that it’s for the municipality. It’s not for anyone else,” said board member Robert Goyette.

Salois, Carellas and board member Jane Magarian all had positive things to say about it. Salois complimented the reduced size, while Carellas and Magarian said it looked good.

“I think the sign is very classy, very understated and subdued,” said Magarian. “I really like the design and I think it’s going to add to the building.”

However, board members also questioned the need for the sign in the first place.

“Everyone has a phone,” said McEwan. “If they wanted to find where City Hall is, they could find it in 20 seconds.”

The hearing was initially continued to May 21, but, on that day, Lisee requested a continuance. She did not respond to a phone call or email asking for the reason. The board’s next hearing on it will now be at its June 4 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the second-floor City Council Chambers.

The City Council will conduct its first hearing on the zoning ordinance amendment during its June 6 meeting, which also starts at 7 p.m. in the second-floor City Council Chambers.

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