BETHEL – Selectmen have been asked to settle a dispute between the Planning Board and the Board of Appeals concerning a restaurant sign application.

The appellate body’s June 24 decision, which reversed a May 14 Planning Board denial of a sign application for new business owners Scott and Robin Mills, is being contested by planners.

The Millses purchased Breau’s restaurant and dairy bar, which is located a mile west of Bethel Village on Route 2.

At the May 14 meeting, the Millses sought approval to replace two internally lit signs that had been up for 15 years by changing the restaurant’s name to Bethel’s Best Restaurant.

However, planners said that any change in lettering or design constituted a new sign, per the sign ordinance. Thus, unlike the old signs, the new signs were not grandfathered from the revised sign ordinance.

A Dec. 3, 2001, ordinance revision also states that as of June 12, 1997, internally lit signs are prohibited in Bethel.

Therefore, citing the sign ordinance, planners on May 14 denied the application by a 6-1 vote.

In a letter to selectmen dated July 7, Planning Board Chairman Al Cressy attacked both the Board of Appeals’ ruling and the process that led up to the decision.

Cressy said that at the June 24 Board of Appeals hearing, he and planners Wally Hannigan, Suzi Harrington and Sarah Tucker were dismayed over the meeting’s process.

“The Appeals Board’s decision seemed to be based primarily on the Board’s dissatisfaction with the sign ordinance,” Cressy said. “It seems inappropriate that a Planning Board action is subject to a reversal at any time just because Appeals Board members may not like the respective ordinance.”

Cressy said the Planning Board believes the Appeals Board is obligated to uphold the intent of the town’s ordinances voted on by town voters, rather than indicate the unfairness of an ordinance. He said the appellate body neither articulated the basis for its decision, nor documented the decision in a findings of fact.

Board of Appeals Chairman Harry Faulkner, in a letter to selectmen dated July 12, said that while he regrets that the Planning Board has been offended, he stands behind the decision of his board.

“I think that it is important that the needs of the Bethel citizen are to be considered with as much vigor as the law and the ordinances allow,” Faulkner wrote. “While I did publicly state that the Planning Board did their job well, I did so with an eye towards the sensitivity of that board.”

Faulkner said that while planners did follow the letter of the ordinance, they failed to do their job well.

“They do have the right to grant an exception to the ordinance for reasons of financial hardship or safety consideration and chose not to do so. I don’t think it is reasonable for us to decide, in a cavalier fashion, what is not financial hardship for a citizen nor do I think that the safety issues are to be taken lightly,” Faulkner stated.

Regarding safety, he said that an externally lit sign is too difficult to see when traffic passes Bethel’s Best on Route 2 at from 45 to 60 mph, despite it being a 45 mph zone.

“It is no secret that I am no fan of the sign ordinance. It is also true that when a sign truly offends the intent of the ordinance, the Appeals Board has not granted the appellant any exceptions asked for,” he said.

Rather than act upon the matter, selectmen tabled it to their Aug. 18 meeting when a full board could be present. Chairman Harry Dresser Jr. was absent at Monday night’s meeting.

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