American Legion leader petitions for Topsham sign code change

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TOPSHAM — The commander of the local American Legion post has started a petition that asks the Board of Selectmen to revisit and change the town’s sign code.

The code, which was revised by Town Meeting in May, in part bans temporary signs from residential areas. As a result, a sign that Topsham Memorial Post 202 displays outside its Foreside Road headquarters to advertise upcoming events must be removed by July 15, according to post Commander Robert Lemont.

“We do send out newsletters, but there are a lot of things that we do in the community that the community likes to know about,” Lemont said Wednesday. “I can understand them wanting to upgrade the sign ordinance … but I think somebody didn’t do their homework, and they’re … going to be affecting a lot of people’s ability to earn a living, in some cases.”

Another petition being circulated in Topsham would attempt to overturn the town’s ban on the sale and use of consumer fireworks. That question could go to the polls in November.

Lemont, who started his petition drive Tuesday, is not seeking a referendum. He said he plans to discuss the matter with the Planning Board at its Aug. 7 meeting. Any changes to the code would have to go before Town Meeting.

Lemont said a meeting was held at the post Tuesday with people from businesses impacted by the revised ordinance. Codes Enforcement Officer Tom Lister sent 52 letters to properties, such as the legion, where temporary, movable or portable signs were located.

He noted that since the prior sign code’s adoption in 1992, 35 different provisions were amended, and that in the past two years, three separate sign-related articles were defeated at Town Meeting, causing members of the public to request the entire code be rewritten, instead of changed piecemeal.

The Planning Board held 22 public workshops on signs, and developed a sign code that aligned with the Comprehensive and Main Street plans, Lister wrote. One significant change was the banning of any kind of movable sign or signs that move, as well as of temporary signs, except for sandwich board signs placed in the Lower Village, Middle Village, Mixed Use Commercial and Mixed Use Commercial 1 zoning districts.

“That sign has been out there for over 20 years; I don’t know what its problem is,” Lemont said, adding that the code should be changed “so that we can have a sign like that. They say we can’t even put a sign on the building.”

“The residential areas are very limiting on what you can do for signage,” Lister said on Wednesday. “… These might be unintentional consequences. The ordinance was written, and I’m sure nobody anticipated the Legion not having signage. It could just be a matter of simply going back to the Planning Board.”

He added that “the same process that writes an ordinance can tweak it, to accommodate people that might be adversely affected by it.”

The legion has a permanent sign with the name of the post. But its other sign, with changeable lettering, is considered temporary because it has no permanent mounting. Only one posted sign is allowed per property in town, Lister said.

Lemont said he would like a meeting between town staff and businesses to discuss the matter, but he plans to continue collecting signatures, to “speak as one voice.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.