NH Supreme Court debating Portsmouth hotel signs
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Elizabeth Dinan reports on the Portsmouth Herald on the New Hampshire Supreme Court tackling one of the toughest questions facing the state; how high can you hang a lighted hotel sign.
The Court is hearing a dispute between neighboring Portsmouth hotels over whether the local Zoning Board improperly granted a variance for the Residence Inn to put an illuminated sign on the side of its building 50 feet off the ground. The Sheraton across the street says the code bans illuminated signs more than 20 feet up, and that the Residence Inn hasn’t earned a variance. Dinan reports on the minutia that the Court will have to parse.
“The sign will be there no matter what,” he again told the court. “The question is where and the ZBA said 4 to 1 we want it on the parapet wall.”
Springer told the court the hotel was “designed to violate the ordinance” by including the parapet and its size does not make it unique.
“Our hotel, which is right next door, is a big property,” he said, adding that the Hilton hotel is also in the same neighborhood.
“I think the marquee signs are reasonable,” said Springer. “But I don’t think the illuminated parapet sign, when it is the only one in the city, or in this area, is reasonable.”
Springer told the court the city banned parapet signs because “they don’t want the clutter and they don’t want it above the roof line.”
Such are the ridiculous consequences of micromanagement by Zoning Board. The New Hampshire Court System, which is constantly complaining about a lack of adequate funding for itself, is now second guessing the decisions of a group of local officials, who have the power to decide the size, local, and type of sign that a hotel owners can put on their own building.
And it’s not enough to write such details into local codes. The Zoning Board also grants itself the ability to ignore the code, pretty much whenever it wants to. The Sheraton argues that this variance was arbitrary and unfair, but the nature of local zoning boards is arbitrary and unfair. Local busybodies meddle in the commercial development of their cities and towns, all with the paternalistic assumption that every hamlet would devolve into Atlantic City without them to temper the whims of capitalism.
Such nanny-state, or nanny-city, interference would be annoying but tolerable if local officials would actually hold themselves to the standards they set. Instead, zoning and planning boards routinely ignore the law, granting waivers for businesses they want to come to town while putting up illegal roadblocks to McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, or some other unfavored business that they oppose. Fighting these petty dictators takes time and money, and adds incredible uncertainty to businesses looking to add jobs.
My hometown of Hillsboro desperately needs more retail options, and some competition to the one grocery store in town. Wal-Mart planned to put in a Supercenter, but the Planning Board and Department of Transportation dithered over who would pay for a left-hand turn lane to handle the expected traffic, while local protesters tried to force their neighbors to continue to drive a half-hour to shop because they didn’t like Wal-Mart. After years of delay, the economy headed south, and Wal-Mart shelved its plans.
In Portsmouth, local officials passed restrictions on the how and where you could put signs on your own buildings. The Zoning Board decided it had good reason to ignore those restrictions. A competitor sued because they didn’t like their competitor getting around an ordinance that they have to follow. And now the New Hampshire Supreme Court gets to settle the matter. This is a great example of how big government creates its own demand.