NAUGATUCK — For a year, large “Verizon Wireless” flags flew over Route 63 outside The Cellular Connection at 1007 New Haven Road. A-frame signs had flanked the busy street since the store opened two years ago.
About a month ago, Zoning Enforcement Officer Steve Macary told manager Phil Ribeiro the flags had to come down and the A-frames had to be pulled away from the road.
Macary said he has notified more than 20 borough businesses since December that their signs violate borough regulations, usually due to their size, placement or distracting qualities. Business zones such as New Haven Road that were once cluttered with signs and advertisements now look markedly emptier — and, borough officials say, nicer.
“A lot of people are really starting to work with us on it, which is good,” Macary said. “They’re seeing the area’s being cleaned up.”
Frequently violated prohibitions include signs that flash, free-standing signs larger than 120 square feet and signs on borough property. As the Zoning Commission works on updating the regulations, they have directed Macary to step up enforcement of the rules that are currently on the books.
Prospect and Watertown have also recently cracked down on illegal signs.
Of the 22 businesses Macary has sent warnings to, 15 have complied, and he said he expects the rest to follow suit. He gives businesses 30 days from the date of the warning letter to comply before instituting a fine of $150 a day. So far, Macary said, he has not had to fine anyone.
“A lot of other surrounding towns are doing it, so they know,” Macary said.
Some business owners and managers in the borough said they complied reluctantly because they felt they had no choice.
“Every other town has it,” said Ribeiro of the flags and A-frame signs outside his store. “It’s just Naugatuck that doesn’t allow it. Our Waterbury store, you could have anything there.”
Macary expressed concern that the flags and signs could fall into the road, but that never happened, even during hurricanes, Ribeiro said. The flags also drew business into the store, which is set back from the road, Ribeiro said.
“People always say they see the flags,” Ribeiro said.
The four flags cost $250 each and will probably be sent to another store, Ribeiro said.
Some pizzerias and other restaurants in town disabled their flashing electronic signs after being warned by Macary. The sign outside Mario’s Pizzeria on Cherry Street is now static, reading “Open,” and A-1 Pizza on Rubber Avenue turned its sign off.
Alex Yilmaz, manager of A-1 Pizza, said last month he wanted to keep his sign, which cost $1,200 and drew attention to the business. Yilmaz also said he would meet with Macary and follow the borough’s rules.
The businesses in violation bought their signs, often online, without realizing they needed a permit from the zoning office first, Macary said. The commission is making sure to tell every business owner seeking approval of a new site plan or renovations that they must get their signs approved as well, Macary said.
Macary continues to send out notices as he sees violations, and said he invites business owners to come talk to him if they have questions. A few already have, but they were polite and ultimately cooperative, Macary said.
“They invested money in their signs and they have to take them down,” Macary said. “They weren’t, per se, mad. They were just curious as why everyone else has them.”