2017-08-18 / Front Page

Signs point to a new ordinance

With complaints about temporary signs rising, planning board gives support to change of town’s rules
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Proposed changes to the town’s sign ordinance earned the support of planning board members last Monday, but with some concerns about unforeseen implications that could result from making the change.

The town council’s ordinance committee began looking into creating a new temporary sign ordinance and repealing the existing political sign ordinance after resident complaints last election season and a 2015 Supreme Court decision determined municipalities can regulate temporary signs as long as the restrictions are content neutral.

This means the same regulations exist for political signs, Realtor signs and signs advertising events or businesses that are placed in the public right of way.

“It has to be uniformly applied,” Bill Donovan, chair of the ordinance committee told planning board members Aug. 7.

“The goal beyond making it content neutral, deals with those sort of issues that have gotten so obvious that the ordinance committee and town council has received complaints about the proliferation of signs in scenic areas of the community and signs around our busiest intersections,” Donovan added.

The ordinance committee has proposed, and the town council has approved at first reading, a new ordinance that prohibits signs in environmentally sensitive areas such as where Black Point Road, Pine Point Road and Route 1 cut through Scarborough Marsh, and keeps them at least 50 feet away from some of the town’s busiest intersections. Some of the intersections include where Route 1 meets Broadturn Road, Payne Road and Gorham Road/Black Point Road, Pleasant Hill Road and where Payne Road converges with Gorham Road and Gallery Boulevard.

The 50-foot setback in that location is designed to reduce driver distraction.

Donovan said when motorists approach an intersection “that’s the moment you need to be careful of everything around you” and not temporary signs.

Temporary signs, which are required to have the name and phone number of the person placing the sign, can only be displayed for 12 weeks a year and only three weeks at a time in a given location. Donovan admitted signs can be shifted from one location to another to get around that time limit regulation.

Furthermore signs must be 1/10 of a mile (528 feet) away from a sign with “the same or similar message.”

That language is the hangup for planning board alternate Rachel Hendrickson.

“You have to be very careful when you talk about similar because in an election there are things that seem similar but are diametrically op- posed,” she said, citing an example of two signs “Vote for Candidate A” and “Vote for Candidate B” being similar in message, but opposed in desired outcome.

Nick McGee, who was filling in as chairman in the absence of Corey Fellows, “similar” is a concern for him as well.

That language, he said, opens the ordinance up to “subjective interpretation.”

Hendrickson also had issue with a provision in the proposed ordinance that states temporary signs on private property cannot be displayed for more than six months. This, she said, is an “abridgement of free speech” and could be problematic for individuals who wish to have a candidate’s sign for the entirety of a campaign season (lead up to primaries through the general election), which lasts more than six months.

She also raised concern about candidates who will have to know both state rules and town rules about when, where and how long a political sign can be placed.

Planning board member Roger Beeley said he agrees with most of the ordinance, but would like to see more clarification about how distances between signs will be measured, something Larry Hartwell, a resident of Puritan Drive, also questioned.

The temporary sign ordinance, Donovan, said has long been enforced by the town clerk’s office, which investigates sign placement upon complaint, or question from a resident.

“I do worry at the height of a campaign season, (Town Clerk Tody Justice) has much more to worry about that a barrage of phone calls (about sign placement),” McGee said.

Despite her reservations, Hendrickson said she “appreciates the hard work” that was put into updating the ordinance.

“Having seen signs sink into the marsh on Route 1, I appreciate the effort there,” she said.

The town council was expected to hold a public hearing on the temporary sign ordinance Wednesday and a second reading as early as Wednesday, Sept. 6, at which time modifications are likely to be made.

Whatever is done, planning board member Susan Auglis said it will not solves all the concern around temporary signs.

“I have been here since Moses parted the Red Sea and nothing comes up (as an issue) as often as temporary signs. We’ve been A to Z in this community with temporary signs. This I do know, there is no perfect answer. It doesn’t exist,” Auglis said.

“Balancing interests is an imperfect task,” Donovan said in agreement.

The ordinance committee, he said, will review the ordinance, once adopted, in a year to see what worked well and what didn’t.

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

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