D-F Land Use Ordinance electronic sign amendments scheduled for November election

By Stuart Hedstrom 
Staff Writer

    DOVER-FOXCROFT — The next step toward placing an amendment to the Land Use Ordinance, concerning electronic signs, on the ballot for the Tuesday, Nov. 5 election was taken during a Sept. 9 selectmen’s meeting.

    The board voted to move the proposed amendments forward, with a vote on certifying the text scheduled for their next meeting on Monday, Sept. 23. The motion to proceed passed 4-1, with Vice Chair Cindy Freeman Cyr voting “no” and Benjamin Cabot abstaining.
    The selectmen’s vote came after an approximate hour and 25 minute public hearing on the proposals for electronic signs. “I think everybody’s aware of the issue of electronic signs, both the selectmen and planning board have been meeting about it and discussing it since last year,” Town Manager Jack Clukey said. He said a sign committee, made up of select and planning board members, residents and business owners, was appointed “to come back with a determination if what we have had in the past is best for moving forward or if there is something we should add.”
    Clukey said the sign committee met over the summer and determined, “the approach they felt was best for going forward was working for the businesses and the community.”
    “When we started out basically we had a whole group of people with different ideas,” committee chair Fred Muehl said. “In the beginning we were all over the place, basically figuring out what we wanted to do.” He said the committee spent about 10-12 weeks looking at signs, working toward “what do we feel we can live with as a group.
    “What we came up with is a document that met our definition of consensus. Some of us like it, some of us don’t but it’s what we can live with,” he said, adding that voters will make the ultimate decision to approve or not approve the proposed Land Use Ordinance amendments pertaining to electronic signs.
    The possible changes include limiting electronic signs to certain state highway areas and to pre-existing businesses that otherwise conform to the ordinance; limiting signs just to the commercial areas of the historic district; further limits on areas where pictorial images may be displayed on an electronic sign; limiting signs to a height of 16 feet; limiting the changeable portion of the sign to no more than 20 square feet; requiring all signs to be fixed to the ground and placed within a landscaped foundation; and require all signs fixed to a building facade to be framed and incorporated into the facade with the awning, canopy or other part of the structure. Each change also includes specifics on what would not be permitted under the sign committee’s proposal.
    Clukey said “point A is basically electronic signs are not allowed unless you are in the red zone.” Pointing to a map of town he showed the red zone to cover portions of East Main, West Main and Summer streets. ‘Point B is they are allowed in more areas, basically it’s the state highways where they are allowed. Basically we got more strict in what signs should be, and we have cleaned some things up too.”
    A question asked about how the electronic sign regulations would be enforced, with approval needing to be granted by the planning board before a sign could be erected. Those not agreeing with the planning board’s decision can take the matter to the board of appeals if they so choose.
    “We talked about enforcement quite a bit,” Clukey said. “One suggestion was if this passes we would send a mailing to all businesses. Really we just do outreach to minimize the times businesses would put out a sign without a permit.”
    Sign violations could lead to a court appearance, as the Land Use Ordinance contains language for this process. “Normally with the enforcement procedure they get a letter,” Code Enforcement Officer Connie Sands said, as the letter states the sign owner is in violation of the town ordinance.
    “There’s a minimum of three letters, then if they choose to ignore it I bring it to the selectmen,” she said, with town officials weighing in on the possible legal costs. “Then if I get their blessing I take it to court,” Sands said, with the town seeking court costs from the sign violator as well as a fine for each day the violation exists.
    “For the most part we are trying to get compliance, I try to do everything to get them to work with me so we don’t go to court,” Sands said. She said consent agreements, such as for those who clean up automobile junk yards on their properties, can be used to solve problem situations.
    Jim Annis of the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society was asked what the organization thinks about the proposed ordinance amendments. Reading through the handouts, Annis said the proposed changes seem fair. “We’re against a Reno, Nev. with all the flashing signs,” Annis said.
    “I’m very concerned once we proliferate these signs we are going to lose that asset we have and we are not going to get it back,” Freeman Cyr said.
    “Just to be clear this ordinance will not allow scrolling signs and it will not allow flashing lights,” select member Gail D’Agostino said.
    Clukey was then asked what happens if the ordinance amendments are voted down on Nov. 5. He said the existing regulations would remain in effect but “right now there isn’t a lot of performance standards around them”
    “I think this is an important decision,” Freeman Cyr said. “I really think our community needs to decide what we need to be.” She added that not allowing electronic signs does not mean that Dover-Foxcroft is not a progressive community. “We have certain assets I think are at risk by introducing more electronic signs.”
    “It’s really hard when you are doing zoning to make exceptions for one group,” Muehl said. “I don’t know how we could have it and be fair to everyone — it’s a compromise.”
    Clukey said the Sept. 9 session is a development hearing. “After this hearing closes this board can take amendments and suggestions and incorporate them,” before the certification scheduled for their Sept. 23 meeting.
    In other business, Clukey was asked how the Bike Maine event went with hundreds of cyclists traveling into town and spending the evening of Sept. 8 camping in Kiwanis Park. “The feedback we got this morning was the bicyclists had a great time and they enjoyed being here,” he said.
    The procession was made up of over 250 participants, representing 33 states including Alaska and New Mexico, who spent a week biking around central and coastal Maine. “I would love for them to come back, but I am not sure what their plan would be,” Clukey said. “We learned a lot about hosting an event like this.”
    He later said, “I just want to reiterate how pleased I am in how many people worked on it,” as numerous volunteers and organizations helped make the event a success.
    Board member Jane Conroy said she and her husband were stationed at the intersection of the Vaughn Road and Essex Street to help direct bicyclists coming into town. “We had people ask where the Center Theatre was located, what time the movie was, where the Freedom House was,” Conroy said. “We must have talked with half of them and they all were appreciative and many said they would be back.”
    In his town manager’s report, Clukey said town crews have finished with pavement repairs on the Bear Hill Road, the apron to the Landfill Road on the Milo Road side and by the landfill gate. Improvements to the apron on the Essex Street side of the Landfill Road will be made in the near future.
    He said EnviroVantage has been working on the Riverfront Redevelopment site for the last two weeks and should be at the former Moosehead Manufacturing property through October. Next month water and sewer services are expected to be installed.

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