2017-08-04 / Front Page

Town has new political sign rules in queue

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

When candidates campaign for office this fall, it is likely they will have to pay attention to new sign regulations regarding where, and how long, they can place temporary political signs.

The changes, which have been reviewed by the ordinance committee during the past few months and were initially reviewed by town councilors last week, stem from complaints about political signs as well as a 2015 United Supreme Court decision which ruled that temporary signs could be controlled by a municipality as long as they were “content neutral” in the restriction.

“You can’t have a set of rules for the church suppers, a different set of rules for Realtors and a different set of rules for political signs,” said Councilor Bill Donovan, who chairs the ordinance committee.

As a result of the new ordinance and the Supreme Court decision, the town’s existing political sign ordinance will be repealed.

Temporary signs in the public right-of-way are only allowed to be displayed for up to 12 weeks a year and only three weeks at a time and must include the name and phone number of the person placing the sign.

Signs with the same, or similar message, have to be separated by at least 1/10 of a mile and cannot be placed in such a way to obstruct or impair traffic.

To that end, due to public safety and driver visibility concerns, temporary signs are not allowed within 50 feet of intersections in areas of high traffic volume. Those intersections include: Route 1/Broadturn Road/Pine Point Road; Route 1/Payne Road; Route1/Gorham Road/ Black Point Road; Route 1/Pleasant Hill Road; Payne Road/Haigis Parkway; Payne Road/Gorham Road and Payne Road/Gallery Boulevard.

In order to protect “scenic vistas” and avoid signs being placed along Scarborough Marsh, which many in town complained about during the election season last fall, temporary signs are not permitted in the right-of-way in several areas of town: Route 1 between Dolloff Way and Southgate Road; Black Point Road between Old Neck Road and Strawberry Fields Road, between Spurwink Road and Sprague Way, between Harmon Street and Winslow Homer Road; Pine Point Road between Marsh Winds Street and Primrose Lane; between Old Blue Point Road and East Grand Avenue and between Minuteman Drive and Hackmatack Drive, as well as along Bayview Avenue between Houghton Street and Morning Street.

The council voted 6-1, with Peter Hayes opposed, to accept the changes at first reading and passed it along to the planning board for its review. The board has the matter on its Aug. 7 agenda.

“People use these signs because they do work and get the message out, but I think it is overly restrictive,” Hayes said.

Councilor Chris Caiazzo said his concern is with how the regulations are going to be enforced.

“I’d like to see some clear guidelines about who is going to enforce it and how it is going to be enforced,” Caiazzo said. Political sign enforcement has typically been handled through the town clerk’s office, but last October Scarborough police issued summonses to two men who had been caught removing or destroying political signs by Scarborough Marsh.

Vice Chairman Kate St. Clair, who said signs are “tacky” and “ruin some of the most beautiful areas” in Scarborough, supports the change, albeit begrudgingly.

“While I don’t agree with it. I will support it because it’s the right thing to do and legally, if it can down to it, I believe it is what we need to do,” she said.

Councilor Katy Foley said she agrees with most of the new ordinance, but, as a real estate professional, is a little concerned about the language that keeps temporary signs away from traffic intersections, popular places for ‘open house’ signs.

Proliferating intersections with signs is not an issue for real estate companies or organizations advertising events such as church suppers, she said, but it is a desirable area for candidates.

“It can get problematic when candidates are vying for that best spot,” she said.

“I think this is great work that addressing a lot of the issues, so I am happy to move it forward,” said council chairman Shawn Babine.

Members of the public were less enthusiastic about the prospect of the new temporary sign ordinance.

Ben Howard, a resident of Windsor Pines Drive, said he could not support the temporary sign restrictions because enacting them would be a “violation of freedom of speech,” but did agree with councilors in that the signs last fall were “over the top in plenty of areas.”

Larry Hartwell, of Puritan Drive, also sees the new restrictions as too far-reaching.

“This is an affront to democracy,” he said.

Councilor Will Rowan disagreed.

“I don’t think it is terribly affronting to democracy with these even-handed restrictions because it applies to everybody,” he said.

Donovan said the regulations, if they are ultimately passed, would only apply to signs in the right of way.

“People should know, there is no impact on freedom of speech on private property. You can have as many signs as you want on private property,” he said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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