SALEM — A new sign proposed at the Hampton Inn on Dodge and Washington streets has ended up in the state's land court after Salem's zoning board said the sign is too large.

The business, which opened with 113 rooms for the first time last year, has proposed installing a roughly 35-square-foot sign on the corner of the building nearest the Dodge and Washington streets corner. It would be mounted on the side of the corner facing Washington Street at about the second and third floors with dimensions of 16 feet high and 2 feet, 4 inches wide, according to plans presented to the Zoning Board of Appeals last June.

The word "HAMPTON" would run vertically from top to bottom in white letters, with "BY HILTON" in smaller letters along the bottom and a solid, dark-colored background. It is a blade style sign, meaning it is perpendicular to the building.

The sign needs a variance from the ZBA because Salem's zoning code only allows signs with up to 24 square feet of area, according to City Solicitor Beth Rennard, who met with the ZBA in a virtual closed-door executive session this past week to discuss the case.

The company's argument for the sign hinges on the number of visitors it expects each year who have no familiarity with Salem, its landmarks or streets. It estimates that "5,500 visitors (per year) will be traversing this path in unfamiliar territory." As such, without a more visible sign than what's allowed, unacquainted guests will miss the hotel's entrance and cause possible safety issues.

"We believe that the visibility of the signage is paramount to avoiding any potential public safety hazards," a June presentation from the company reads. "There are several key factors that affect the visibility of the blade sign, which have motivated us to apply for a larger sign than is allowable by the current Salem zoning ordinance."

The Salem Redevelopment Authority, following a favorable opinion from its Design Review Board, approved the sign last winter. In June, SRA executive director Tom Daniel called the review up to that point "extensive." The hotel is in an urban renewal district overseen by the SRA.

He said both the SRA and DRB thoroughly vetted the design and found that "final design iteration of the blade sign is appropriate for the scale of the building, its location in a heavily trafficked intersection, and its style that reads as more downtown urban rather than suburban or highway."

But the hotel still needed a variance because of the size and location of the sign, Rennard explained. The ZBA denied that variance and Hampton Inn appealed. 

The ZBA decision is based on its judgment that enforcing the ordinance wouldn't "involve practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship" for Hampton Inn. "The petitioner has other options available for signage, which would not require relief from the terms of the sign ordinance," the decision reads.

The board ultimately voted against the project, with member Peter Copelas in support and the remaining four opposed.

Attorney Tom Flannagan, representing Hampton Inn, declined to discuss the case or next steps. Further information wasn't available from court records due to technical difficulties restricting state court website access on Friday.

See the company's presentation at bit.ly/3wDKuP3, and read the ZBA's decision at bit.ly/3dNToRe.

Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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