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Carr Hardware Window Wraps Deemed 'Art' Not Signage
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
01:31PM / Thursday, July 29, 2021
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The ZBA in a split vote on Wednesday determined the window wraps of tools and other items on the exterior of Carr Hardware are art, not advertising.


The Rasers say the glass behind the wraps aren't windows into the building but fronts to enclosed display cases. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Carr Hardware owners Marshall and Bart Raser were "disappointed" that they had to face the Zoning Board of Appeals regarding artwork and signage on their North Street store.

"In a quick drive around town tonight, on my way here, I found 31 businesses, which I'd be happy to list, all with the same window violation that you're proposing for Carr's," Bart Raser said to the panel on Wednesday night

"I don't know why you're picking on us, I don't know, but our hope is that it's a significant improvement to our building, a significant improvement to downtown and we're disappointed to be here tonight."

The owners requested appeals after the city building inspector flagged the business's artistic window wraps, existing pole sign and projecting sign, and the total amount of signage for the business as a violation in May.

To their relief, the board deemed the window wraps as artwork and not in violation of signage allowances. The decision was made in a 3-2 vote with John Fitzgerald and Thomas Goggins opposing.

Goggins first successfully motioned for the panel to agree that all pre-existing signage including the pole and projection displays were unrelated to the issue at hand and wouldn't be addressed.

Deliberation occurred when the board had to choose between backing the building inspector's determination that the window treatments were another form of advertisement and out of code or decide that the treatments were artwork and within signage regulations.

The Downtown Creative District overlay that was ordained by the City Council in April contains a provision that requires window transparency of at least 50 percent and a restriction of no more than 60 percent window coverage.

Raser confirmed that his business paid fees to an art website for the images that are on the windows, which supports the panel's decision of the wraps being artwork instead of an advertisement.

When he reported that the "windows" in question have only allowed spectators to see into the display case rather than the sales floor for 90 years, the panel wondered if the provision could even apply to this situation.

"Those windows have never been windows that you can see in and out of the purpose of that downtown creative district was to see what was going on inside, to see activity," board member Esther Bolen said.

"If you've never been able to see the activity in this building, it sort of negates the whole point of why we're even here."

Permitting Coordinator Nate Joyner explained that the board is not tasked with determining whether the structures in question are windows or not. If Carr Hardware were to request a waiver for the transparency and coverage requirements in the Downtown Creative District, it would have to submit for a special permit.

The panel also recognized that if it found the Rasers' business in violation, it would have to address the number of other downtown businesses that have similar coverage on their facades.

Fitzgerald speculated that other downtown businesses may have worse storefront violations featuring logos and phone numbers.

Executive Director of Downtown Pittsfield Inc. Cheryl Mirer attended the meeting in support of Carr Hardware and Pam and Tom Rich of Paul Rich & Sons wrote a letter outlining the business's significance to the downtown.

"They add character and color and vibrancy into downtown," Mirer said about the window treatments.

The Riches were also displeased that Carr Hardware was under question by the ZBA.

"We are thrilled to see the upgrades of the storefront windows and thought that the creative use of their storefront added interest and style to the street, and we are just dismayed to learn that the city had a problem with this improvement," they wrote.

"With the continued closures of downtown retail business, we would hope that the city would encourage and assist retailers to make more improvements to their buildings without undue stress and financial repercussions. We would like to see more energy placed into attracting new businesses and help retailers create a vibrant downtown."

In other news:

  • The board approved an amendment on a special permit allowing changes to the site plan for Bloom Brother's existing cannabis retail use. This includes the expansion of parking onto the property of 14-16 Larch St. The dispensary plans to remove a residential home and detached garage to make way for 17 additional parking spaces. The amendment was granted with three conditions involving lighting, landscaping, and requiring all required permits.
     
  • The board approved an amendment to a special permit for HiBrid at 1315 East St. allowing for changes to the site plan for the existing cannabis retail use including demolition of existing storage use and expansion of the parking area.
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