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January 24. 2013 10:38PM

Killing creativity: An illegal 'sign' in North Hampton

A New Hampton restaurant famous throughout New England for its lobster and ice cream is in court over a statue of a lobster holding ice cream. That never should have happened.



The Beach Plum restaurant sits across the street from North Hampton State Beach. It is a valuable community and state asset - so valuable, in fact, that the State Parks website advertises the restaurant as an amenity available at the state beach. The Board of Adjustment for the Village District of Little Boars Head, in whose jurisdiction the Beach Plum sits, feels differently, however.

The board worries that the Beach Plum's decor might lower property values. To prevent that, the board ruled that the restaurant's two statues of red lobsters holding a huge ice cream cone in each claw are signs. Lo and behold, if they are signs, the board can regulate them. How convenient.

The North Hampton Planning Board had already determined that the lobsters were not signs. "We determined that they were, in fact, not signs at all but works of art," Shep Kroner, Planning Board chairman, told this newspaper. But the village board of adjustment has different artistic judgment. It has ordered the lobsters removed, and so the award-winning restaurant has wound up in court to save its creative crustaceans.

Sign ordinances, no matter how tightly written, usually result in subjective judgments by boards tasked with enforcing the rules. The trick for these boards is to avoid using sign ordinances to stifle creativity by arbitrarily imposing the subjective tastes of a few upon everyone else. Alas, such arbitrary imposition is exactly what the Little Boars Head Board of Adjustment appears to be doing.


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