NanTaco Faces Fines, Misdemeanor Charge Over Sign

Jason Graziadei •

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The owners of Nantaco, the new taqueria on South Water Street, are facing fines and the possibility of being charged with a misdemeanor for hanging an unpermitted signs at their downtown location.

The Sign Advisory Council (SAC) - a committee created by the Nantucket Historic District Commission to review all proposed signs on the island - has rejected Nantaco’s current hanging sign, finding its colors, fonts and general design to be out of step with its guidelines for signs in the downtown historic district. The SAC has also objected to Nantaco’s other decorations, including a barrel that has its name and logo, and the hanging decorations along its storefront.

“It’s fine for the genre of the business and to create some latin vibe, but that’s not what we’re trying to do in the streets,” said SAC member Kevin Kuester during the council’s meeting last week. “I don’t feel like we’re getting any cooperation here. I see a multitude of violations. If every business, regardless of if they have seven feet or 17 feet (of storefront), began to treat it like this, I’m afraid we’d have another Hyannis situation.”

Lee and Cindy Milazzo, who opened Nantaco on June 30 after a significant renovation of the interior space at 21 South Water Street, have hired attorney Steven Cohen to represent them as the discussions with the SAC had reached a stalemate.

During last week’s meeting, Cohen made a presentation that documented dozens of signs for retail establishments, restaurants and other businesses in downtown Nantucket that he said also did not adhere to the SAC’s guidelines, and yet have been approved or allowed to operate without the threat of a fine and misdemeanor.

“There are literally dozens and dozens of signs that appear to be inconsistent with your guidelines, and I think that’s because they’re just guidelines, they're not hard and fast rules,” Cohen said. “My client wants to be treated the same way everyone else is treated.”

Lee Milazzo went even further.

“Every town office has been so supportive of our efforts to open a year-round restaurant and the community has really turned out for us,” he said. “It’s just too bad that two to three people on an obscure unelected advisory committee can be so inconsistent in their assessment of what is ok for a sign. There are dozens of signs all over the core district that do not comply with the standard that they want to apply to NanTaco, and that standard is not consistent with history or reality of the downtown commercial district. I could understand if we were trying to do something neon or huge but we are talking about a 2x2-foot painted wooden sign to advertise our business. They are threatening my business and me with civil and criminal penalties because they don’t like the ‘Latin vibe’ of the font and color. It’s very disheartening, especially in light of all of the other signs that they ignore or approve that have lively colors or fonts. Government should be consistent and fair.”

Members of the SAC, who have also grabbed headlines in recent weeks for their objections to the faux flower installations popping up around the core district, said the other signs mentioned by Milazzo and Cohen may have been approved before the SAC guidelines were created, or potentially should be cited for violations as well.

“There are a lot of signs that aren’t approved and ought to be on the violation lists,” SAC chair Chris Young said. “We’re doing the best we can with the applications we’re presented with. Keeping the streetscape as protected as we can, that’s our mission.”

The SAC uses a 36-page document called “The Sign Book” as its basis for evaluating proposed signs around the island.

NanTaco will be back at the council’s next meeting with proposed revisions to its sign design. In the meantime, the current NanTaco sign remains hanging at 21 South Water Street.

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