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.