The Millville Board of Adjustment held a meeting on Oct. 27 to discuss three variance applications filed by Millville Town Center Associates, LLC.
The applicant requested to be granted additional square footage on directional signage from 1.5 square feet to 13.13 square feet per sign, proposing to install two illuminated “Welcome” signs.
“I interpreted that as a directional sign,” explained town Code and Building Administrator Eric Evans. “They’re allowed to have directional signs… It doesn’t say how many signs they can have just the size [restriction].”
Gary Brent, who represented both Giant Food and Gable Signs, spoke to the board regarding the entrance signs requested within the variance application.
“A lot of this, the size of these signs is driven by the sight profile from the street. They are extremely set back from the road. This is guiding customers into the shopping center and once they’re in the shopping center, helping safely guide them as to where they need to go.”
Town Solicitor Seth Thompson asked Brent if thought was given to the size of the sign based on where people would be parking based on their distance from the sign.
“This is the guide once they’re inside the shopping center. We couldn’t put a welcome sign up on the wall that would be tasteful that would get people from the street,” said Brent, adding that the design is based on a sight line of approximately 300 feet. “This is designed assuming someone is in the parking lot.”
Board member Mark Reeve asked whether the store had considered installing the signs inside the doorframes.
“They are inside... Again, the idea is to try and increase a way for people to safely find the entrance. Parking is dispersed... they’re trying to help their customers park closer and get in the door,” said Brent, adding that the parking lot is relatively dark at night.
“We have to think about residents as well,” responded Reeve. “Is this a necessary variance that we need to grant?”
Board member Andy Lyons said that he could understand the need for illuminated entrance signs.
“I use the Giant a lot, so I know where the entrances are. But still, they’re very far away from each other and once you get into a certain area of that parking lot you’re kind of in no-mans land. Believe it or not, even though I know where the entrances are... I may find those signs helpful. Once you get in there, it’s a pretty monotonous store front.”
He also noted that although the storefront has two raised “towers” on the façade where the entrances are, once inside the parking lot they are less pronounced.
“I feel there is a relative need,” said Lyons.
Thompson noted that the variance, per the town code, could be granted due to an exceptional practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship.
Lyon’s motioned to grant the variance for the illuminated entrance signs based on the physical conditions that exist within the parking lot, in terms of distance and the depth of the lot.
The Board voted 2-1 in favor of the variance request, with Reeve opposed.
“I don’t see where the conditions are being satisfied here,” he said.
The board was also presented on information regarding the application requesting a variance to allow five signs be installed on the storefront. As it currently reads within the town’s code, for commercial use may have one sign, displaying the store’s name.
“This is a re-imaging for Giant,” explained Brent. “The purpose of this is to have uniformity within their brand. I know that sometimes that seems less important to the towns but it is very important for Giant… recently with economic restraints and things of that nature this is a studied program of reimaging that has shown success for their customer base to increase their sales.
“What they’ve essentially done is shrunk down the logos and spent less time and energy with the name and more time on the services and the types of products they sell.”
Brent noted that the current signs that are on the Giant storefront would be taken down and replaced. Brent said that the store was requesting to put up signs that say, “Giant,” “The Quality Food People,” “Starbucks,” “Pharmacy” and “Low Prices.”
“The economy has driven this re-imaging away from to be honest,” he said. “The Giant pharmacy, it’s a brand within a brand. Many people just use the pharmacy, honestly... the pharmacy people come and we try to pull in those customers for other reasons and vice versa.
Millville Town Associates also filed an application for a variance for additional square footage. The current Code permits 100 square feet or 5 percent of the building’s frontage for a commercial use within a shopping center. They requested that the town grant them a variance of 191.4 square feet, for a total 291.4 square footage of signage.
“This building is a legally nonconforming because they had signage prior to the new code in 2007. The code says that if they want to change their signage more than 50% they have to be conforming,” explained Town Manager Debbie Botchie.
Thompson asked Brent whether there was any order of priority or hierarchy in terms of importance within the five signs.
“The Giant sign obviously, I believe once you get to that point, you’re limited to what’s left. You couldn’t go in order and take the first three.”
The board decided to table discussion of the two remaining variance applications until Nov. 17 at 7 p.m., to give them additional time to consider the requests.
“I’d sort of like to go over it with a finer toothed comb and seem what kind of compromises, if any, can be made to satisfy our charge and just not willy nilly,” said Lyons.
“We do want to do right by all parties here,” added Reeve.