September 05, 2013WOLFEBORO — Mark Anthony, owner of Anthony's Old Style Pizza in Clarke Plaza, got a rude shock at the beginning of August when he received a July 30 letter from Audrey Cline, Wolfeboro's code enforcement officer, asking him to stop using his illuminated "Open" sign.
Citing Section 175-44, Part D of the zoning ordinance, adopted in 1997, Cline wrote, "The lighted 'Open' sign is not in compliance."
The sign with OPEN in large red illuminated letters is located inside of Anthony's restaurant but visible in the window.
Anthony was not alone in receiving a letter from Cline. The same letter was sent to all businesses with illuminated signs in town, according to Town Manager Dave Owen.
Paul Zimmerman, Anthony's landlord at Clarke Plaza, responded to Cline's letter on Aug. 19, writing "Please be advised this red neon sign was purchased and installed by Ted Vathally in 1988 when he opened his Sub & Pizza business," enclosing a photo taken during a 1988 appraisal with the Open sign visible in the window. Zimmerman's point was that since the sign was installed before the ordinance was enacted, it is grandfathered or exempt from the regulation.
Cline responded on Aug. 26 claiming that "due to the poor quality of the copy [of the photo] I cannot identify the sign in the window," and asked for a better copy. Alternatively she offered to come and look at the manufacturer's label to verify date of manufacture.
Larry Kitsios, owner of Louis Pizza in the Wolfeboro Shopping Center across from Clarke Plaza, said he also got Cline's letter and claims his Open sign is grandfathered. "I have had a sign there since I bought the business," he said, well before the law was changed. Kitsios complained that the town makes it hard for people to run a business. "If you go on Route 28 toward either Alton or Ossipee you will see signs pointing you to Alton House of Pizza or Ossipee House of Pizza. Wolfeboro doesn't allow signs like that either."
A spokesman for Care Pharmacy said their lighted Open sign had been removed after Cline's letter was received. He noted that the sign helped people driving by on Center Street know whether his business was open, particularly in winter when it gets dark early and snow blocking panels make it difficult to see whether the store interior lights are on.
Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary DeVries said she had not seen the Cline letter but said Chamber members were concerned about the town sign restrictions and enforcement, which were the subject of controversy in 2010, and that the Chamber played an active role in modifying the ordinance in 2011.
DeVries said the Chamber board would take up the subject at its next meeting.
An inquiry to Town Planner Rob Houseman on the scope of enforcement was unanswered at press time.