Banner day for WSU at Board of Public Works meeting

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 city’s Board of Public Works met yesterday to determine the fate of the Westfield State University (WSU) banners that hang throughout the city.

The Board of Public Works voted yesterday to keep 12 banners on Western Avenue and three on Thomas Street during their meeting, though with caveats. The board wants to make sure that the banners are taken care of and the ordinance that they fall under is followed by WSU.

“I’m voting ‘yes’ with two provisions,” board secretary Jack Campaniello said during the meeting. “They can only be on poles in front of their property and it’s not up to the residents to let them know if they’re ragged.”

Two board members—Campaniello and Thomas Pereira—voted in favor of the banners under the conditions listed above, while one member, John Sullivan, voted against them.

“I don’t understand why the neighborhood is so distressed about this but I’m going to vote negative,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan cited the facts that the letters they received in favor of the banners were not mostly from residents, but rather from university staff. Also, he said that he voted against because of how ward four city councilor Mary O’Connell, who was opposed to the banners, was treated during a visit to WSU to discuss the banners.

The banners have been the topic of some debate over the past month, after their presence was brought to the board to be discussed Jan. 11. At the center of the debate were two city councilors, ward 4 councilor O’Connell and at-large councilor, and city council president and WSU employee Brent Bean, as well as Frank Mills, a resident of Westfield.

The banners first appeared about 10 years ago, and have been hanging along Western Avenue and Thomas Street, as well as some in the downtown area of the city. The banners became an issue when the university has been noncompliant with a city ordinance regarding banners and some of the banners reportedly became torn and tattered. The university has been noncompliant since 2011.

According to the ordinance, any banners that are to be hung in the city must be permitted through the Department of Public Works every year. Additionally, the banners are supposed to be taken down in December each year, and remain down until March of the following year. These two points however, WSU was neglectful of, not renewing permits or taking them down each year.

And it is for these reasons that O’Connell has questioned the banners. In a previous meeting with the Board of Public Works, O’Connell said that she wants the university to comply with the ordinance and that the ordinance is meant to be followed by everyone.

Regarding Mills, he came out against the banners and was more vocal about his opposition.

“I’m opposed to the signs,” Mills said at the previous meeting. “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.