Westfied State University banner banter heard by Board of Public Works

The Board heard arguments both for and against the banners

The banners in question from Westfield State University, with one in the forefront and another in the background of the photo, both hanging from telephone poles. Photo Courtesy: The Westfield News

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) —The fate of Westfield State University’s banners around the city hangs on the decision of the city’s Board of Public Works.

The Board heard arguments both for and against the banners, as they try to determine whether to allow them to continue to hang in the city, and if so, how many and where. Two city councilors were at the center of the debate, as ward four councilor Mary O’Connell spoke against the banners and at-large councilor and city council president Brent Bean, II, spoke in favor of the banners.

Bean is also an employee of the university.

The school has had the banners along Western Avenue and Thomas Street for about 10 years, and since 2011 the university has not been compliant with city ordinance regarding banners on public ways. The portions of the ordinance Westfield State has not followed is getting a permit to hang banners every year, as well as taking down the banners from December to March each year.

“We’re in front of you to get the banners approved on Western Avenue,” Bean said. “We have clearly not been in compliance and

we apologize for that.”

Bean said that the task of maintaining proper compliance had “fell by the wayside” as personnel changes and other tasks for the university occurred.

Bean was seeking to allow 12 banners to hang on Western Avenue, as well as two more on Thomas Street. He said that the banners would be maintained by Westfield State’s marketing department, including replacement and repair as needed, which would be about every two to three years.

City council president Brent Bean, II
City council president Brent Bean, II

“I think it brings real value to the city,” Bean said.

Ward two councilor Ralph Figy, whose ward would be and is currently where two banners hang on Thomas Street, said that he was also in favor of the banners.

“It does nothing to take away from the character of the neighborhood, it does nothing to take away from the appearance,” he said.

Bean however, requested that the banners be allowed to hang year-round, since the costs to take them down for three months is not cost-effective for the university.

“We found that it’s cost-prohibitive to take them down three months out of the year,” he said. “It costs about $3,000 to do so.”

This is due to an outside company called Sunshine Signs, from Worcester, would have to come and take them down.

Ward four councilor Mary O’Connell
Ward four councilor Mary O’Connell

O’Connell though, felt that the history of the banners and the university’s lack of compliance with the ordinance is reason enough why they should not be allowed to continue to hang them.

“2011 was the last time they were legally permitted,” O’Connell said.

“I want the university to just comply with the system,” she later added.

Public Works Director David Billips concurred with O’Connell, saying that the ordinance in place should be followed by every entity that it applies to.

“We have developed these rules and regulations and they have to be followed by everybody,” he said.

Billips though, was clear in stating that he was neither for nor against the banners.

A concerned resident who lives near the banners also spoke at the hearing, siding with O’Connell.

“I’m opposed to the signs,” Frank Mills of Westfield, said. “It’s a residential A neighborhood and I don’t feel the college is in any way an enhancement to a residential neighborhood. I don’t feel we should reward them when they’ve been out of compliance.”

A residential A neighborhood is “intended to accommodate single family detached dwellings at a higher density than the agriculture district,” according to section 3-50 of the city zoning ordinance.

The Board determined that it would have to look at the information further and decided that it would vote on it during its next meeting in February.

Copyright 2017 The Westfield News