Reading the signs

Good intentions don’t always result in good policy or good practice.

The Town of Winthrop is trying to sort that out up on Bridge and Bluff streets, where Mike Kutz and Anna Rogers opened the six-unit Bunkhouse Inn late last year. Kutz had asked for and received approval to put signs up on the inn, going through the town’s Westernization Architectural Committee.

That would have been fine if the Bunkhouse Inn was in the B2 business zone, which allows large signs as long as they comply with Westernization guidelines. But the inn is in a B1 zone, where sign sizes and configurations are more tightly controlled. The WAC didn’t check the zoning because it didn’t realize it needed to, and town administration wasn’t involved in the decision-making process.

A Bunkhouse Inn neighbor brought the discrepancy to the town’s attention, and last week the Town Council had little choice but to enforce its own zoning and require that the inn’s signs be removed.

What happened at the Bunkhouse Inn was nobody’s fault, but the remedy will be somebody’s expense — the town’s, it seems. Kutz proceeded as directed, in good faith. The WAC made a decision that the group believed was within its purview and in keeping with Westernization expectations. The planning department didn’t get involved because it’s no longer part of the Westernization oversight system. All of it involved signage that many observers, including several Town Council members, said they didn’t find problematic.

Although such incidents don’t happen often, the town has dealt with similar issues in the past that required sign makeovers. That’s inevitable. The WAC has the challenging task of acting as the town’s Westernization cop, making sure that Winthrop’s look is authentic and consistent.

It seems to bear repeating, when people scoff at the WAC’s work, that Winthrop is a Western theme town and has been for more than 40 years. Before that, it was a seldom-visited country crossroads. Without Westernization, the four-way stop would be the only thing slowing travelers down.

The town allows Westernization to be eroded at its peril. Merchants who decide to take advantage of the foot traffic and broader exposure that come with a shop on Riverside Avenue have no room or reason to complain about the Westernization guidelines if they are fairly applied.

The town’s residents also need to be considered. As council member Mort Banasky noted at last week’s meeting, Winthrop should be as nice a place to live as it is to visit.

The Bunkhouse Inn is a nice addition to the town’s lodging inventory, in a good location. Even with smaller signage, it’s probable that visitors will find their way there. And to take a positive away from the issue, the council is taking action to make sure the zoning code and Westernization guidelines will be in synch.

Nice ‘rides’

It’s sometimes hard enough to be taken seriously as a small town police officer, let alone when you can’t count on your official rig to get you where you need to go safely, if at all. The Town of Winthrop’s mismatched set of near-derelict police vehicles have become notoriously unreliable and sometimes downright laughable — on one of them, the roof-top light bar starts flashing by itself as if the SUV independently decided to pull someone over.

Newly arrived Marshal Rikki Schwab didn’t waste much time finding room in her budget to purchase two new vehicles — not the used trucks the town has settled for in the past — and showing the Town Council how it could be done.

The new fleet (two now, three eventually) will not only make the marshal’s office more efficient and responsive to residents, but also will allow the town to stop wasting money on endless repairs. To use an accounting term, the cost-benefit ratio is compelling. Not to mention that the new vehicles will look much more professional.

— Don Nelson