Cape Elizabeth likely to loosen rules on some business signs

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Businesses scored a victory last week when the Ordinance Committee finalized a draft amendment to the town’s sign laws that would allow store owners more leeway to display sandwich boards and flags.

Under the amendment, sandwich boards would be reclassified as permanent signs. Store owners would be able to display a board year-round during business hours for a one-time, $25 fee.

Language concerning flags was added to the ordinance for the first time; the amendment would enable store owners to fly them, free of charge, during business hours.

The existing ordinance classifies sandwich boards as temporary signs that require a $25 monthly permit, with a three-month limit per year.

“We read over the bylaws and said it’s just not right,” said Janice Stockson, owner of Shore Things, a women’s consignment shop on Shore Road. “If we’re going to foster growth here, and you want us to grow along with your community, then we need to have a little more free reign.”

Stockson started using a sandwich board in front of her store earlier this year to help drum up business.

“It started working,” she said. “People were reading it and saying, ‘Oh my god, you’ve got a sale!’ Or ‘the new fall bags are in,’ or whatever. So more and more signs started showing up in town. We didn’t realize you had to get a permit for it.”

The town’s code enforcement officer, Benjamin McDougal, discovered local stores were not in compliance with sign ordinances soon after he took the job in January. He started calling out businesses, but he also helped create a resolution.

“Ben jumped in with both feet, god bless him, and found that this ordinance was kind of a mess,” said Lee Wilson, owner of Tara Home & Gift on Shore Road. “It was confusing. It was hard to interpret and, most of all, really hard to enforce.”

The Cape Business Alliance, a group that formed last year to promote business growth in Cape Elizabeth, approached the Town Council over the summer to request an amendment extending the use of sandwich board signs. The council voted 7-0 to send the request to the Ordinance Committee, which heard comments on the topic from business owners on Sept. 19, and conducted a survey of sign ordinances in neighboring towns.

McDougal then worked with Town Planner Maureen O’Meara to write an amendment to the sign ordinance. At it’s Oct. 10 meeting, the Ordinance Committee reviewed the amendment, made minimal changes, and agreed to send it to the Town Council, where it seems likely to be approved in November.

“We didn’t really have a problem with it,” Councilor Katharine Ray, the committee chairwoman, said. “We thought it was reasonable, so that’s why we have the proposed language change.”

Representatives from the Cape Business Alliance said its dealings with the Town Council and Ordinance Committee on the matter were amicable.

“They really went through it very thoroughly to make sure they weren’t missing anything, and also to make sure they weren’t overthinking anything, because, after all, we’re only talking about little sandwich signs,” Wilson said.

“But we’re also not a Route 1 town, so it’s not like we have this huge influx of business coming through,” she said. “It’s nice to know that all the parties involved were on the same page and willing to be business friendly.”

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.

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A sandwich board stands outside Tara Home & Gift on Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth, where a proposal to loosen restrictions on the signs is headed to the Town Council.

A sandwich board stands outside Fiddleheads Flowers & Vintage Chic Gifts on Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth, where a proposal to loosen restrictions on the signs is headed to the Town Council..