EDITORIAL: Southington considers new regs for “mobile billboards”

EDITORIAL: Southington considers new regs for “mobile billboards”

In Southington, a new business along busy Queen Street parked a truck in front of its lot. That sounds about as innocuous as it gets, except that the Mission BBQ truck could be considered advertising. Zoning officials made Mission BBQ move the truck to a less conspicuous location as part of the businesses’ certificate of occupancy.

This sounds more than a little persnickety. A business ought to be able to advertise, and part of doing business is finding ways to reach customers. It’s called getting the word out.

But the commercially vibrant area known as Queen Street also has a way of prompting concern, particularly when there’s a worry that perhaps things have gone too far, and in this case members of the Planning and Zoning Commission are concerned about the strip becoming “billboard central.” That’s how one commission member put it, and Town Planner Rob Philips referred to it as a “cat and mouse” game, with businesses using vehicles parked in front of establishments as advertising.

While it may seem a little nitpicky to worry about such things, there does appear to be an issue of fairness, and if the commission can come up with a way to address that issue it would probably be worth it.

For one, rules about advertisements are hard to enforce and open to interpretation. Town regulations mention advertising and billboards, including “any portable trailer-mounted or similar mobile bill board,” but what about a vehicle with a logo parked by the road? Regulations can apply to those, but enforcement tends to be the result of responding to complaints as opposed to patrolling for violations. If the town did patrol, violations would be found everywhere.

So there’s a fairness issue. If one business gets targeted there’s often the response that other businesses are doing the same. “Restaurants, retail, businesses are always competing,” observed Philips.

It’s not fair to apply the rules inconsistently, and as the situation with Mission BBQ illustrates, that’s what’s been going on. The best solution would seem the least fussy. Otherwise, does the commission really want to get into the business of patrolling for signs on parked vehicles?