WOODBRIDGE — At two busy intersections along Route 67, two large signs directed travelers to a nearby Bethany farm that doubles as an ice cream shop.
The signs belong to Kriz Farm Ice Cream, a three-year-old startup on Bear Hill Road that borders the Woodbridge line. Since the shop's opening, the advertisements have stood intermittently at the Route 67 intersections of Bear Hill Road and Acorn Hill Road, situated on the private property of Woodbridge residents with their consent, according to Wendy Kriz, the business owner.
But in May, Kriz received a letter from a Woodbridge zoning official notifying her that the shop's signage violated that town's zoning regulations. As a result, the signs would need to be removed, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the New Haven Register.
Now, Kriz is challenging the ruling through an appeal that has sparked a debate among Woodbridge zoning officials over the intent and the effectiveness of the town's regulations. She said she hopes to come to a compromise with the town "which will allow us to draw new business to our ice cream shop and community."
In her letter to Kriz Farm Ice Cream, dated May 17, Zoning Enforcement Officer Kristine Sullivan wrote that, "Business signs for businesses not located in Woodbridge are not allowed."
Sullivan said in the letter that she received "numerous complaints" about the signs, and requested they be removed by May 26, or else the town's Public Works Department would remove them. The business also could face "further enforcement action," Sullivan stated.
The town's zoning regulations allow for businesses to install signs in residential districts, such as the areas where the signage for Kriz Farm Ice Cream is located.
However, according to Sullivan's interpretation of the regulations, those businesses must operate on the properties where their signs are placed.
"The signs that are there are not on property where the use occurs," Sullivan said during a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals last week. "There’s no doubt they are wayfaring signs, but under our regulations, which are my duty to enforce, they are not signs which can be allowed to remain."
Sullivan said she consulted with Town Attorney Gerald Weiner prior to issuing the violation, and he agreed with her interpretation. The regulation is necessary, Sullivan added, because, "Otherwise, you could have signs sprouting up all over town for anything as long as someone said you can put a sign there."
Some ZBA members disputed Sullivan's ruling, saying that the regulation's ambiguous language does not allow for a clear interpretation.
"I think these regulations are quite confusing," ZBA member Celia Walters said during the hearing. "I don’t think the regulations specify. It doesn’t say anywhere that the business has to exist on the property."
Walters said the regulations should state specifically that out-of-town businesses are prohibited from advertising on private property in Woodbridge.
"It’s ambiguous from this language and we haven't had this issue before us," she added. "For those reasons, either (the regulations) need to be amended or we need to approve the sign."
ZBA member Shawn Flynn, who also serves on the town's Economic Development Commission, said Woodbridge and Bethany, although two separate municipalities, are part of the same community. He added that, "Everyone in our town should be aware that we need to be supportive of businesses … to help all of our residents."
Besides Kriz Farm Ice Cream, Woodbridge has several business signs that violate the town's zoning regulations, according to a member of the public who spoke during the appeal hearing. Sullivan said she would look into the illicit signs.
"We clearly have other signs that are in violation," ZBA member Cynthia Gibbons said. "We all drive by them everyday."
The board voted to continue the appeal hearing until its Aug. 8 meeting. In the meantime, members said they expected to seek a second opinion on the matter from Weiner.
"I think what we’ve uncovered is that this is something that we need to dig into," Flynn said.
Kriz Farm was started by the late brothers Johnny and Joseph A. "U.J." Kriz more than 60 years ago. Originally a dairy farm, it now raises horses and other farm animals, according to Wendy Kriz.
The Kriz family opened its ice cream shop in July 2021 to help sustain the farm business, Kriz said in a phone interview this week.
Kriz said the two Woodbridge signs have been "crucial" to attracting new business: the signs are the only ones that the business uses to direct traffic to its property.
Many customers, she added, have reported finding the ice creamery through those advertisements.