'Open' flags spark debate

MANCHESTER - Steve Burzon, owner of Garden Arts on Depot Street, hopes to convince the Planning Board to amend the language in a Manchester bylaw that does not allow businesses to fly "Open" flags outside their premises.

Earlier in June, at Manchester's Planning Commission meeting, Burzon made a statement to the board, saying that he was notified by Zoning Administrator Lee Krohn that he would have to take down the Open flag that he had been flying outside his store.

"Earlier in the day he had emailed me... said the flag was not within regulations and I would have to take it down," said Burzon.

However, Burzon pointed out that there are other businesses in town that still fly open flags. Krohn replied that none of those flags are allowed to fly, and it is a matter of notifying all the businesses and telling them to remove them.

"[The bylaw] has been in place for decades," said Krohn. "I can presume that it was because [those who enacted the bylaw] didn't want Manchester to be seen as Anywhere USA... it isn't elitest... it's a high standard to make Manchester unique."

Krohn continued to explain that the bylaw came out of an era of rapid development in the late 80s, and as a result there was backlash over the development and its pace.

"There was much concern over how the town looks and functions," he said.

Burzon disagrees with this bylaw, and stated that he was interested in beginning the process of ammending it to allow the flags.

"I see the flags as a way of inviting people to my business," Burzon said. "It is a means of communicating to the public... it says we're open now, come on in."

Burzon explained that when his Fresh Market store first opened, he had designed and purchased a large flag made of durable material. However, he was notified that he had to take that one down because, as he remembers, he was told it was oversized.

"I thought that was what he meant, I may be mistaken, but I thought he said it was oversized and made no mention of them being forbidden," Burzon said, "so I took it down and put up a smaller flag."

Burzon attempted to recommend solutions to the flag problem as well; he made a few suggestions about what kind of flags should be allowed if the bylaws should be changed.

"I suggested that they should regulate the flags," he said, "and maybe design one that is particular to Manchester... that all the stores could buy... they would look the same." At the meeting he also suggested holding a flag designing contest, where residents could submit designs and vote on a winner.

During the board's discussion, it was brought up that there are no regulations concerning American or Vermont State flags outside businesses.

"It has been on my mind to get [an American and Vermont State flag] for some time," Burzon said. "They kind of say 'We're a country store'... Welcome."

At the meeting, Burzon was advised by Krohn that if he was to return with more supporters in favor of the bylaw change then they would officially add it as an agenda item at the next meeting.

"The bylaws are living documents," said Krohn. "The Planning Commission demonstrates a willingness to change, and this may be the latest incarnation."

Since then, Burzon has written a letter that printed in both the Journal and the Bennington Banner. He outlined the issue before asking local businesses who agree with his stance to email him and potentially come to the next meeting.

"I have received four to five emails," he said, "and another five or six verbal responses."

The emails came from a mix of people, both shop owners and consumers.

"I'm neither a shop owner nor a restaurateur but a Manchester resident who endorses your desire for a change in the regulations regarding signage [or] flags," said one resident. "A few open signs, banners, statuary in the grass, etc... would make this place more pleasant to live and visit."

Not all responses were in agreement with Burzon, though.

"I believe the regulation is correct, that open flags are unnecessary and would degrade the ambiance of our town," read one email, "More importantly, I feel it is the responsibility of the business owner to create an exterior appearance that makes it clear to the public that the business is in fact open."

At the time of printing, the issue of allowing the Open Flags has been put on a future agenda for the Planning Commission, but the date of the meeting has not been set due to summer schedules. In the meantime, Burzon believes that simply talking about the issue is making progress.


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