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Newbury Street Sandwich Boards Part 2: Confiscating Signs and Enforcement 101

“I’m sure they’ve written some tickets, but they’re more likely to educate than issue a violation."

Five years ago, the city drove along Newbury Street with a big truck, instructing businesses to remove their sandwich boards from in front of their buildings.

“If they didn’t remove them by the time they swung back around, we took them,” said Lisa Timberlake, public relations officer for the city’s Department of Inspectional Services.

But businesses had ample notice.

First, the department sent out letters (see attached pdf in photos) on May 18, 2006 informing them that the city, the and the “have received a number of complaints regarding freestanding signs located on the city sidewalk, which are inhibiting the safe passage by pedestrians.”

The letter also warned “enforcement of these regulations will be commencing in the near future.”

Back Bay Association President Meg Mainzer-Cohen passed the letter along to the organization’s members, adding: “Many property owners, store owners, retailers, salons, art galleries, etc. are unhappy with the clutter and have asked us to seek greater enforcement by the city of Boston … let’s clean up the clutter!

On June 18, the city sent out another letter: “Today city agencies … will conduct a code sweep of businesses along Boylston and Newbury Streets. …A team of inspectors will walk through the area and issue tickets and violations to businesses found to be in violation of the Building and Zoning code.

At the end of the day, 13 businesses were fined $200, about 30 signs removed by the city, and another 20 more taken down by the shop owner.

“Even if they’re confiscated, they’re so cheap to buy,” said William Young, chairman of the Back Bay Architectural Commission. Since then, he hasn’t seen a lot of enforcement.

“The current climate has been pretty lax,” he said.

When the city gets a complaint, the Inspectional Services Department sends a code enforcement officer to check it out (which happened in the case with Kashmir over Memorial Day weekend.)

“On arrival, the officer noted the billboard was not on public property,” Timberlake said.  It had been moved in from the sidewalk. “On private property, code enforcement officers cannot site.”

Instead, it becomes a building code violation, and is referred to the building division of the Inspectional Services Department, where someone will respond in 48 – 72 hours.

“If they do note there’s an infraction, they’ll come back to the department and conduct background research,” Timberlake said. “If they find there’s not a proper permit, they’ll write a violation against the Mass state building code or zoning code.”

The violation doesn’t contain a dollar amount; it explains they’re not in compliance and gives the businesses a certain amount of time to remove the sign. If they don’t, the issue goes to the Boston Housing Court, and is in the hands of a judge.

Before anything escalates to that point, however, the city preaches education, said Assistant Commissioner of Inspectional Services Darryl Smith. That was the point behind the 2006 sweep, which, he notes, was the result of the neighborhood asking for more enforcement.

“That was a request that came direction from the business community,” he said. “We’re willing to work with them.”

The sweep “was extremely effective,” he said. Since then they’ve gotten “a complain here and there.”

“I’m sure they’ve written some tickets, but they’re more likely to educate than issue a violation,” he said.

If it does become a problem again, Smith said he would handle it the same way as before.

“I have no problem,” he said, “pulling the team together and going back.”

Check back tomorrow morning for the final Part 3 of the series.

Additional Coverage:

BackBayRes June 15, 2011 at 01:59 PM
These signs are a hazard to pedestrians and especially the disabled and elderly. In addition, they are ugly and make Newbury Street look trashy. ISD should do regular "sweeps" to enforce the law.
Alana June 15, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Another case of a few disgruntled control freaks of city government and Back Bay groups who do not represent the real people who live here trying to destroy any character and attractive additions to the neighborhood. The signs are pretty. Pedestrians need to get off of their blackberries and cell phones and watch where they are going. I learned how to walk when I was 2 and have gotten fairly good at it. This is about exercising control and money flow, not about alleged concern for the people who live here. I've lived here for 10 years and find the signs charming and reminiscent of France, Spain, and Italy.
Alana June 15, 2011 at 05:09 PM
If the city cared about appearances, they would first tackle the curbside trash and rat issues. The Copley T-station entrance next to the 7-Eleven on Dartmouth St @ Boylston always has 1 door blocked by bags and bags of unsightly trash and trash piled up on the other side of the entrance structure as well. The Back alleys on either side of Newbury Street are filthy with trash and rats (here's an idea: mandated dumpsters instead of trash bags on the ground?!?). You BBAC people have your priorities all wrong. Just take a walk down the alleys on a trash or non-trash pick up day and you will see. People should have shared trash dumpsters like the ones behind the Vendome in public alley 434 instead of curbside bags that fall apart and leave trash everywhere (for rats to thrive on). Disgusting. Boston is a dirty city. Here's another idea: how about public recycling trash bins instead of just all-purpose trash bins?
John Doe June 20, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Pretty? Charming? Sounds like you have a sign on the street. I will call the Mayors office, ISD and the DPW every day and complain until something is done. I am also going to send an email to Susan Wornic as well as Hank Ryan. I too have live here for 10 years. How about the poor blind person with the walking stick who walked into American Apparals sign last week? He wasnt on a cell phone or a Blackberrie. (BTW a Blackberrie is a cell phone ). Go move to France! Set your signs up on your own private property, not on the sidewalk.
John Doe June 20, 2011 at 02:31 AM
Heres another idea: Move to Spain.
Alana July 12, 2011 at 01:58 PM
John Doe has no concept of "social interest". Immediately thinks that just because I don't mind the signs, I must own a store and have a sign. What a loser. No, I don't own a sign or a store. I just care about the businesses in my neighborhood and the freedoms we have as Americans. By the way, I served in the US military, so please stop with your childish pro-American rhetoric about how every other country must be worse than the USA. Lame debate tactic and even lamer debater.

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