Though a conspicuous South Avenue property has seen significant improvements since a local doctor acquired it for his medical practice, town officials this week voiced criticism for a sign proposed for its front yard.
New England Healthcare LLC, owned by family medicine practitioner and longtime New Canaan resident Dr. David Dayya has done a “really nice job” with the doctor’s offices at South Avenue and Oak Street and “super” work in addressing what had been traffic problems under past occupants of the two-story building there, Planning & Zoning Commissioner Bill Redman said Tuesday night.
Yet an approximately seven-foot-high, cedar post sign proposed for the front yard 194 South Ave. is “a really ugly sign,” Redman said.
“It’s huge,” he said during P&Z’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall. “I have been up and down South Avenue. The [New Canaan Emergency Services] sign down below it is two feet off the ground before the actual sign starts. There are other ones that have similar type signs but they are pulled back closer to the structure. I am not opposed to any type of sign being here, but I don’t see why it can’t be 36 inches or even no more than 48 off the ground. Spread it out. It doesn’t need to be that height because of snow because we don’t get many snowstorms that are more than two feet.”
Under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, signs are permitted in residential zones with site plan approval from the Commission (see page 173 here). This building is in the B Residential zone.
Ultimately, with agreement from an attorney representing the applicant—Mike Sweeney of Stamford-based Carmody, Torrance, Sandak & Hennesey LLP— P&Z continued the matter to a future meeting.
“The goal is to have hopefully something reasonable that is palatable to everybody that meets everyone’s concerns in the town but also let’s Dr. Dayya have a sign like other doctors do on South Avenue,” Sweeney said.
The property has been operated as doctor’s offices in New Canaan since the 1960s, Sweeney said.
According to tax records, a limited liability company whose principals are listed as residing at Dayya’s house purchased the .28-acre property and 1925-built structure about one year ago for $1,175,000.
Dayya acquired the property for his own practice, Sweeney said, and it has undergone “benign changes” such as cleaning up its exterior and installing an ADA-compliant ramp to the buildings. The purpose of the hanging sign is to help people with “wayfinding,” according to the application filed by Sweeney.
A researcher and scientist as well as a physician with expertise in public health and wound care, Dayya himself is a “very significant doctor to add to our community,” a father of three who has been here for about 25 years and “has many patients in town,” Sweeney said.
The purpose of the application is to get “as attractive a sign as possible knowing the sensitivity in town,” Sweeney said, that “also announces [Dayya’s] presence.”
Yet while the P&Z is “happy to have this kind of use” for the building, Commissioner Laszlo Papp said, the sign itself is “not only ugly but unnecessary.”
“I do not believe a single use, a single occupant requires this kind of sign,” Papp said. “You go a few doors down, there is another doctors on South Avenue, the name is on the door. Perfectly effective and adequate, and people find the good doctor without having a sign. This kind of a sign is appropriate where there is a larger property with many, many occupants and uses. Totally, totally, I think unnecessary to have this kind of sign.”
He added that although Dayya’s practice is relatively new in New Canaan, “people will learn the name and will learn what he does without billboards.”
Sweeney responded that it can be “hard to tell sometimes in a vacuum on taste, and what different Commissioners might view on the location of the sign, the nature of the sign, how tall it should be.”
“Certainly [we are] willing to make reasonable changes to address your concerns, but we do feel strongly that it is not an unfair request to have a sign on a property for a medical offie on South Avenue,” Sweeney said.
P&Z Chairman John Goodwin noted that some of the physician’s offices on South Avenue have signs but they’re either set back or screened from the road, if not far smaller than what has been proposed. In some ways, Goodwin said, citing an observation from the town planner, the proposed sign looks like “a real estate sign.”
“As you well know, there is a very high percentage of population in town trying to figure out how to eliminate real estate signs,” Goodwin said.
Commissioner Claire Tiscornia noted that nobody wants to disallow the doctor from having a sign.
“I would just say that you should mount it on the building,” she said. “Because there is not a lot of landscaping between South Avenue and the building, you will be able to see it.”
Dayya himself took to the dais, telling P&Z that he is on the medical staff at Norwalk and Greenwich Hospitals both, and that he liked that the doctor’s building on South Avenue “looked like a house” rather than a “stale office building.”
Regarding the sign, Dayya said he wanted it to look less like a real estate sign and “more professional.”
“As far as lowering it, I am certainly amenable to any and all of those things,” he said. “Moving it back a little further, that is not an issue. The point is that being somewhere there where someone driving by sees it and says, Oh there is a medical office, there is the doctor’s office, and for it to be readily recognizable, that is very important to us.”
P&Z continued the application to a future meeting, and Sweeney said he would work with the planner between now and then.