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Dear Reader,

What’s your sign?

No, Dear Reader, Your Gilbert is not trying to pick you up, though you are cute! We really just want to know what your sign is, whether it will be round or rectangular, whether you want your neighborhood association’s name on it, and most importantly, what’s it going to cost?

These are the questions posed by the city staff’s latest Gateway Sign System proposal. The signage system, even the parts that have been already approved, has been on the back burner for a while due to more urgent issues before the council and staff.

This is a system of informational signage, including “gateway” signs on the border and at the community center, informational kiosks in places with heavy pedestrian traffic, and smaller signs showing historic districts or merely city identification. The idea is to leave no doubt in the minds of visitors what city they are in and where – in the friendliest of terms – they can go.

All that is approved by the council. The staff is proposing as well a number of “tertiary” signs located on neighborhood roads leading off the city’s major arteries: New Hampshire Ave., Flower Ave., and Piney Branch Road.

Perhaps because the topic was not fresh on anybody’s minds it occasioned a good bit of confusion, frustration and a couple of snippy comments at the October 16th discussion.

Councilmember Joy Austin-Lane, for example, found it difficult to differentiate the already approved details from the newly proposed ones. She demonstrated the need to flip through the multipage presentation document to glean relevant information.

What she wanted was a comparison chart clearly showing the various proposed options, one that separated out the already approved portions of the project from the newly proposed parts.

However, she couldn’t quite put that into the succinct sentence that Your Gilbert just did with the advantage of time, hindsight, and reference materials. Instead, she struggled to explain what she wanted.

Maps? Showing where the signs would be placed, helpfully suggested Sarah Anne Daines, Housing and Community Development Director?

No, said Austin-Lane, trying to explain again: pictures, a list, all together . . . .

“You want a map?” asked the mayor, trying to move the discussion along.

“I didn’t ask for a map a single time!” said Austin-Lane flatly, wishing she’d thought to tuck a chain saw in her purse.

Austin-Lane found the entire signage project frustrating. She said she wants to see at least the start of the first phase before she votes to fund further phases. She said, “phase one is approved, funded, and missing in action.”

Councilmember and County-Councilmember-in-Waiting Marc Elrich was momentarily upset because there were no signs indicated in his ward on the map (not the map that Austin-Lane didn’t want, another map). Ms Daines assured him that “a green dot fell off” the map before it was copied. Everyone was understanding. Your Gilbert lives for these small-town moments.

Councilmember Clay said she was reminded of a news item about Pasadena, CA where signs identifying a neighborhood were a ranging controversy because inclusion in that particular neighborhood added $50,000 to the value of a home.

Clay asked what the neighborhood designation would be, the name of the neighborhood or the neighborhood association? When told the neighborhood association, she was dubious.

Ms Daines, backpedaling at top speed, said there were indeed mixed reactions to this plan, and it would be easiest to just use the city seal on the signs.

But councilmember Terry Seamens pursued the question, asking WHO had mixed reactions: the staff, citizens? She said it was a “workgroup.”
Seamens was taken aback that the options they were discussing were yet to be presented to the neighborhood associations. He said he thought the council would make the decision. A horrible thought occurred to him – could different neighborhoods end up with different signs?

Ms Daines assured him that they wouldn’t. The associations would just be given the opportunity to give feedback – and pick ONE design. And given that feedback, the council would make the final decision.

The example of the neighborhood association sign, Gilbert noted, was that of “Hillwood Manor”, the association with the shortest name. The “South of Sligo Creek Citizens Association,” and “ New Hampshire Gardens Citizens Association” will require much bulkier signs – or much smaller text.

For a Hallowe’en treat, Dear Readers, imagine the horror as neighborhoods “give feedback” over what to put on their signs, and the results: signs with dozens of appendages like tv’s MASH signpost, traffic accidents involving drivers distracted by reading all the fine print, and lawsuits when a signpost topples over and skewers a small child.

In the end they decided the most important question was one they had no answer to – and that is the cost of the project. They asked Ms Daines to come back with the costs. But no maps.

- Gilbert

PS. You can view a memo, including small graphics here. A pdf of the proposal presented to the council for the October 16th meeting – with clearer graphics – is here.

About the author: Gilbert

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

1 comment

  1. Tom Gagliardo says:

    I don’t want a sign at the entrance to my neighborhood (Hodges Heights). I want the Takoma Park Oakleaf flag, a big one, strung across each street fluttering in the breeze.

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