BATH — In response to requests from business owners, the City Council is considering revising rules that regulate downtown business directory signs.
The signs, which would be placed at the intersections of Front and Centre streets and Front and Elm streets, would direct people to specific businesses in parts of downtown that they might otherwise miss.
Councilors held a workshop Wednesday, and City Manager Bill Giroux said afterwards that new language will be brought to the council next month pertaining to more the specific directory signs at the two locations.
A directory sign with a map of the city now stands outside City Hall at the corner of Front and Centre streets. Jane Morse of the Sagadahock Real Estate Association, which owns multiple downtown buildings and leases space to merchants, suggested during the workshop that a new sign be placed on the other side of the street.
She said such a sign “would show people … there’s a great store down on Centre Street that sells flowers, or medical equipment, or whatever people are looking for.”
Code Enforcement Officer Scott Davis said the city’s ordinances currently prohibit off-premise signs, “so you can’t put a sign somewhere off your property advertising your store, your restaurant or anything like that.”
The sign in front of City Hall is an exception to that rule, he said. Independent directional signs are also allowed for businesses at least half a mile outside the Commercial Zone and in the street right-of-way, or on private property, at intersections.
“Merchants beyond Elm Street have historically wanted some way to let people that aren’t familiar with Bath know there are more stores beyond Elm Street,” he said. “A lot of people apparently walk down to Elm Street, kind of cast an eye down the street, and come back up.”
Davis said the owner of Ornament Home & Garden Store, at 11 Centre St., placed a sign advertising her business at the corner of Front and Centre streets that he required to be removed.
But he said the sign apparently was effective and boosted her business “a lot.”
Ornament’s owner, Gayle Hunt, said she had placed the sandwich-board sign at the corner and outside the walking area. She said it can be difficult to inform people new to the city that there are more restaurants, stores and services downtown than they may realize.
Councilor James Omo expressed support for the directory concept.
“The directory for me – in specific spots; it doesn’t have to be all that big – gives a lot more information than just ‘restaurant,’ ‘salon,’ ‘antique shop,’ what not,” he said.
Omo told the business owners in the audience that “We are with you. We recognize there’s a need.”
The council will later also consider amended ordinance language concerning political signs on private property. The language would classified these signs as temporary, limit them to no larger than 16 square feet and allowed them to be erected no more than six weeks before an election and one week afterward.