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Nice n Easy on Route 12F runs into sign snag

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The development of the Nice N Easy convenience store at Salmon Run Mall Road and Route 12F has run into an unexpected snag over a sign its owners want to place at the corner of 12F and the Interstate 81 South on-ramp.

The developer is claiming that an obscure state Department of Transportation regulation has created a hardship that requires a zoning variance for a taller and larger on-premise sign, while the town of Watertown Planning Board is claiming that by granting the variance, the town Zoning Board of Appeals would create a dangerous precedent.

The Planning Board approved the project in early March. At the time, a narrow strip of land extended from the area designated for the gas station and convenience store to an area designated for the installation of a 20-foot-tall sign to advertise the station.

Later that month, the state Department of Transportation approved the traffic flow into and out of the station, according to Patrick J. Scordo, principal at GYMO Architecture, Engineering and Land Surveying, the firm developing the site.

The project moved forward and site work began July 8 for the convenience store and gas station.

A few days later, however, a letter arrived from the DOT announcing that the proposed sign would not be considered an on-premise sign.

“Where the sign site is located on or near the end of a narrow strip contiguous to the advertised activity, the sign site shall not be considered part of the premises on which the activity being advertised is conducted,” the letter read.

DOT also told developers that the sign could not be considered an off-premise sign because it would be less than 500 feet from the I-81 interchange.

Mr. Scordo said that neither the town Planning Board nor the design team was aware of the regulation.

Caught off guard, Mr. Scordo said that Edward J. and John P. Valentine, who own several Nice N Easy stores in the area, tried to remedy the situation by seeking a variance from the town Zoning Board of Appeals for an 80-foot-tall on-premise sign.

The appeal was based on a claim of hardship imposed by the DOT regulation.

But before the Valentines appeared before the ZBA, members of the town Planning Board sent ZBA Chairman Robert W. Wormwood a letter.

The developer of the Nice N Easy site first approached the Planning Board with a proposal for a taller and larger sign than is allowed by town regulations, the letter read.

The developer was informed that the Planning Board could not and would not consider that request but that other options could be pursued, including using interstate promotional signs located before each exit on I-81, using existing billboards or increasing the amount of property purchased to allow construction of a sign closer to I-81.

The developer pursued the last option, the letter read, and it was up to the developer, not the Planning Board, to ensure there were no issues associated with the option it chose.

Mr. Scordo said that the 80-foot-tall sign proposed by the Valentines blends in with surrounding land features, including a cellphone tower and high-tension power lines.

It is so tall because the Valentines want the sign to be visible if adjacent sites are developed further, according to Mr. Scordo.

But according to Planning Board Co-Chairman Thomas E. Boxberger, who helped write the letter to the ZBA, the sign flies in the face of the aesthetics that the town has endeavored to enforce in the area.

“The proposal for larger and taller signage is clearly NOT in harmony with what has occurred in the Town and in clear violation of the regulations and intent of those regulations. The Town has been recognized for the attractiveness of signage along the NYS Routes 3 and 12F at Local Government Conferences, and the proposed signage would undo much of that,” the letter read.

The Planning Board also wrote that granting a variance for the taller and larger sign would set a dangerous precedent for new businesses and existing businesses proposing new signage.

Mr. Scordo said the Valentines don’t agree with that assessment, as they feel their situation is unique because of the unforeseen DOT regulations.

At last Wednesday’s ZBA meeting, the issue was tabled until next month so the developer and the Valentine brothers could regroup to see whether a compromise on the sign could be reached, according to Mr. Wormwood.

He said he doubted the ZBA would grant the variance.

If the Valentines decide to continue their appeal, they will appear before the ZBA again on Nov. 6.

The Valentine brothers could not be reached for comment.

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