The new downtown signage continues to spark comment around town. The Wayfinding Project, a collaboration between the City Council and Montpelier Alive, which cost $200,000, was installed in mid-November to help visitors navigate the capital city. The project includes parking signs, pedestrian directional signs, vehicle directional signs, information kiosks, street light pole banners, and a landmark sign that reads “Downtown Montpelier.”
Almost immediately after the signs went up, community members began to share their opinions on social media. Enough negative comments were posted to elicit a response from Montpelier Alive defending their and the city’s decision to install the signs.
But the controversy did not stop there.
The conversation surrounding the signs recently resurfaced on Montpelier’s Front Porch Forum page days into the new year. Dian Kahn wrote that the design “is totally out of character with the architecture and charm of downtown.” Others, like Valerie Coolidge, believe the money spent on the signs should have instead been spent on pandemic relief, despite the fact that funds had been allocated to the sign project in 2019, before the pandemic hit.
Some locals also took issue with what they considered a lack of transparency from the City Council, since many Montpelierites were unaware of the city’s plans until the signs went up. While the City Council held multiple public meetings since 2016 to discuss design concepts, some nonetheless think that the city did not do enough to spread the information.
Objections to the signage led a group of community members to start a petition that demands the City Council re-evaluate and modify the “objectionable components” of the signs, and urges the council to develop a transparent, well-publicized list of ongoing projects, as well as more opportunities for public discussion.
Not everyone who posts online dislikes the signs. Sheryl Rapée-Adams, co-owner of Massage Vermont, wrote that the signs are a useful addition for visitors who are unfamiliar with the downtown layout. “Before we temporarily closed Massage Vermont during the pandemic, giving clients directions to reach us was tricky. People who don’t know the area had no idea which way downtown was from the roads entering Montpelier.”
Will Schebaum commented on residents’ unwillingness to accept a changing city: “What I’m uncomfortable with is the resistance to change and worry about the “corrupting” of our “historic” small town. I love the charm and character of Montpelier but also like new and exciting developments.”
Now that a non-binding petition is circulating, there is a chance that the council may address these concerns. But it is likely that the signs are here to stay, meaning that those who want them gone will have to make peace with the ever-evolving landscape of Montpelier.
As business owner Fred Bashara put it, “Not everything that is done throughout our city will please everyone.” He also added some helpful advice: “If someone did not know about the scheduled meetings, then please call the city to have your name added to be notified for future meetings.”
See past coverage on the topic from The Bridge: