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NARRAGANSETT — The Narragansett Town Council last week gave its approval for the town manager to sign an application for a variance for signage at Sunset Farm, after a discussion about whether the council was setting a precedent for others to ask for exceptions for larger signs than are currently permitted.

The council voted 4-1 July 15 to allow Acting Town Manager Sean Corrigan to sign an application for the variance. The application still must go before the town’s Zoning Board of Review for a hearing, however it was not on the board’s July 18 agenda.

Applicant Jeffrey Farrell, who leases the property from the town, wants to install two 25 square-foot roadside signs to promote the sale of farm products.

An image of a proposed eight foot by three foot sign included with the application touts the farm’s all-natural beef, steaks and hamburger.

According to the application, the signs will be interchangeable and replaced, depending on the season and the crop that is being grown. The signs will not be internally illuminated nor have any moving parts.

Last July, Sunset Farm was cited for excess signage in a residential zone, which only allows six square feet of signage. Farrell appealed the decision and at that hearing the Zoning Board of Review suggested Farrell apply for a variance for slightly larger signage.  

As the town is the owner of the property, the town manager must sign the application.

Council member Jill Lawler voted against the move, and referenced a recent episode last year involving independent gubernatorial candidate Joe Trillo over a large campaign sign he posted on his sister’s property near Scarborough State Beach.

“The concern I have goes back to Joe Trillo, from just this past election year, when he erected a very large sign and the town had a hard time getting it down, in fact we didn’t get it down,” she said.

The matter ended up before a municipal court judge, who denied the town solicitor’s suggestion for a fine of $500 per day, up to $30,000, against Trillo, Lawler said. The judge ultimately brought the fine to $2,500 or $3,500, according to the solicitor, Mark Davis.

“I for one do not want to see our town be made into a litany of sign after sign after sign,” she said.

She also rejected Farrell’s claim that the variance is needed because of a hardship.

“It should be noted he lives on the town farm, pays no rent or taxes … and the town receives no portion of any type of sale at that farm. I can’t see how it’s a hardship.”

Councilor Patrick Murray said the farm and Kinney Bungalow are nonconforming uses in the R-80 zone.

“I have stock in the boys and girls in planning, and I see no reason to not move this forward,” he said.

Lawler said the decision could lead to “every other business, every person wanting to run for office to cite this as a reason why they should have a larger sign,” she said. She suggested the town take time and bring a new town manager into the decision process and review efforts underway to clean up the farm before proceeding.

Councilor Richard Lema noted signs have been up at the farm for years, promoting corn and pumpkins for sale, for instance.

“It’s a farm, I know it’s zoned residential, but it’s obvious the zoning is wrong … We should come up with an ordinance for uniform signs across town,” he said.

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