The Bethlehem Historic and Architectural Review Board came up with a new set of guidelines on Wednesday that will allow more than a dozen downtown business owners to keep using their lit “Open” signs -- at least for another year.
Many of the businesses may still need a strategic application of black electrical tape or paint to get in compliance, however.
The new guidelines, which the board unanimously agreed to, regulate the size, color and placement of acceptable signs. They also require that no part of the sign other than the letters in the word “open” be lit.
Most of the signs downtown feature a lit, blue oval-shaped border. Board Chairman Fred Bonsall suggested electrical tape as a remedy. The board intends to review the guidelines -- and possibly change them -- in one year.
While internally lit signs were not necessarily illegal in the historic district, they have rarely, if ever, been approved in the past. Lit signs that blink are illegal citywide.
Confetti Café’s neon window sign, it was noted by board members Wednesday, pre-date the time when HARB began to regulate the use of signs in the downtown.
Fourteen businesses in the Central Historic District came under scrutiny in March after Phil Roeder, a city building inspector and HARB member, noted the proliferation of internally lit, neon or LED “Open” signs that had not received board approval.
All signs in the historic district must receive a “certificate of appropriateness,” a permit for the historic district. HARB recommends and City Council approves all certificates.
The first three businesses in the group of 14 were scheduled to appear before the board Wednesday to seek approval for sign use.
But while the first business owner, Carmen LoBaido, owner of Artsy Diva, 458 Main St., sat in front of the board, the conversation began to turn toward finding acceptable guidelines to allow businesses to keep some kind of internally lit “Open” sign in the short term.
Board members were convinced by LoBaido’s argument that Main Street visitors often struggle to figure out which businesses are open at any given time without lit signs.
“I see no harm to the streetscape to have small internally lit 'Open' signs,” Roeder said. “This is an important issue to these businesses.”