Manchester board hears sign argument

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MANCHESTER — A local business owner who insists that the sign for his vacation rental units doesn't violate the town's bylaws made his case before the Development Review Board on Wednesday.

Andrew Tarantino, owner of A Safe Place Storage, is adamant that a sign in front of his business, Vermont Vacation Rentals, does not violate zoning regulations. Town Zoning Administrator Janet Hurley had previously insisted the sign be taken down, as it violated restrictions on commercial advertising in a residential zone.

"I disagree with The Zoning Administrator's decision that I am in violation by having `commercial advertising' in the residential zone," said Tarantino. "I am using the residential homes as a residential use, because I am renting it to vacation renters. This residential sign does not require a permit as stated in the regulations."

Tarantino claims that the sign serves a purely functional purpose in directing tenants to the property, which is not visible from the roadway.

"Most of my tenants are elderly, as I built these homes to be handicap accessible," said Tarantino. "These tenants have expressed to me that they have trouble finding the driveway during the day and at night."

The property is owned by Tarantino's corporation AJT Enterprises, which does business under the registered trademark name Vermont Vacation Rentals, according to Tarantino. Hurley claims that the sign, which reads "vermont-vacation-rentals.com," advertises Tarantino's business.

"To me it doesn't matter who the owner of the property is, the sign is advertising a commercial activity," said Hurley. "It doesn't change my interpretation that he's got a commercial sign that requires a permit."

Hurley claims that a sign containing a business or domain name is not permitted in a residential zone, where this property lies.

"He's renting those houses," said Hurley. "If his sign said Tarantino, or the name of the cottage instead of vermont-vacation-rentals.com or Vermont Vacation Rentals, it would be fine."

"The state does not recognize any rental property as commercial unless it's more than three units,"argued Tarantino.

Tarantino claims that the town cannot regulate the content of his sign, citing freedom of speech cases from both the U.S. and Vermont Supreme Court's.

"The sign is under 1.5 sq. feet so it is the correct size, and has correct placement, as per the regulations," said Tarantino. "If this Board feels they can deny my sign based on "content" please state so, as I have legal documentation, that states that any Town regulations in the state of Vermont or in the USA, must be content neutral."

Tarantino agreed that he would apply for a permit if that was the boards decision, though it is not guaranteed that his sign would be approved.

"I maintain that it's a commercial sign. Commercial signs do require a permit, and I'm not sure if he applied for a permit that I could issue a permit because the property is residentially zoned," said Hurley. "I would not issue a permit for a sign that I considered a commercial sign."

Ultimately, the Development Review Board will have to decide whose interpretation of the regulations, Hurley's or Tarantino's, is correct.

"I respect the Zoning Administrator, and acknowledge that she has a tough job," said Tarantino. "However, I do not agree with her decision for all the above mentioned reasons."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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