The town has retracted a violation notice against the owners of NanTaco, the new taqueria on South Water Street, who had been facing potential fines and the possibility of being charged with a misdemeanor for hanging unpermitted signs at their downtown Nantucket location.
The violation notice was called "premature" by Nantucket Planning and Land Use Services (PLUS) director Andrew Vorce, who said only the Historic District Commission has the authority to issue enforcement actions, and it has not yet ruled on NanTaco's signage.
For most of the year, NanTaco owners Lee and Cindy Milazzo had been at odds with the town's Sign Advisory Council (SAC) - a committee created by the Historic District Commission to review all proposed signs on the island. The SAC had 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, its awning, and the hanging decorations along its storefront.
The disagreement led to the Milazzos receiving a violation notice from the Historic District Commission on June 28 sent to them by HDC compliance coordinator Esmeralda Martinez. But following a recent meeting between Vorce, Martinez, and Lee Milazzo, the retraction was issued.
"It was a relief to meet with the Planning Director and get a retraction of the enforcement letter," Milazzo said in a statement shared with the Current. The PLUS Department staff members "were very helpful and nice. That said, I’m still concerned. Most people in the town staff have been incredibly helpful but the Sign Advisory Committee seems to be treating us differently. They are very aggressive, and some of their comments are racially and ethnically insensitive. We just want to be treated like everyone else, to be able to have a small sign with our logo for our new year-round restaurant. Dozens of other shops in the downtown district have similar fonts and logos, but the SAC is targeting the one with a 'Latin vibe' that is supposedly inappropriate for our community. They claim that it is turning us into Hyannis. Shame on them. It’s a 2x2 painted wooden sign."
Milazzo was referring to comments made by SAC member Kevin Kuester during one of the council's meetings earlier this year in which the NanTaco signage was discussed.
“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,” Kuester said during the council’s meeting on July 19. “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.”
The retraction letter issued by the town states: "Regarding 21 South Water St.-Nantaco, until the HDC makes a final vote on the signage and awning. The HDC and SAC will take no further action. Mr. Lee Milazzo, Mr. Andrew Vorce and I met on August 11, 2022, and we have all come to an understanding of the situation."
The Milazzos, 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 during the ongoing discussions with the SAC and HDC.
The SAC has consistently requested that NanTaco come back with revisions to its sign design, and address the awning and other decorations it has objected to.
"We don’t issue the enforcement notices or have to authority to revoke them," said SAC chair Chris Young. "Personally, I would like to see a revised application come before our board that we could recommend for approval - assuming it complied with the guidelines. I think that most applicants would agree that we work with them to meet their needs, while also protecting the streetscapes that make Nantucket a special place for business owners and their customers."
Vorce agreed with Young's assessment regarding which entity has the authority to issue enforcement notices.
"Only the HDC has the authority and the application submitted by NanTaco has not yet been acted on by them," Vorce told the Current. "Enforcement is therefore premature. The letter sent out by Esmeralda was retracted until the HDC acts upon the application."
During the July 19 meeting with the SAC, 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.”
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.