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m-topplanningboard-011609 Digital sign ordinance moves back to workshop

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m-topplanningboard-011609 Digital sign ordinance moves back to workshop

TOPSHAM — The Planning Board will rework a draft ordinance governing placement and use of changeable, digital signs and discuss it again in a Feb. 3 workshop.
Planning Director Rich Roedner said on Tuesday that the town received notice last spring of changes the state made to the Maine Department of Transportation's digital sign law. A local ordinance on digital signs can supersede state law, Roedner said, explaining that the Planning Board chose to create language that regulates the signs – for instance, how often they change – more strictly than state law allows.
Board members, Roedner said, "wanted to go back to the level of regulation the state used prior to 2001. ... They wanted to have fewer changes during the course of the day. When (a sign) changed, they wanted to make sure it changed really fast ... you don't want it to be a visual display that someone's going to stop and watch."
The draft language that the board presented Jan. 6 allowed Topsham's existing changing signs to remain, but did not permit others. Those in existence would be allowed to show four different messages a day, changing no fewer than every four hours, and hence six times a day.
Roedner said four commercial signs currently exist: at Five-County Credit Union and Atlantic Federal Regional Credit Union along Route 196, a car wash on Monument Place, and at Norway Savings Bank in the Topsham Fair Mall. Another changeable sign, at Harry C. Crooker & Sons on Route 196, is a public information sign showing time and temperature and would only be regulated by how often its messages change, Roedner said.
The board discussed how other businesses in town might want to install changeable signs, as well as the potential visual distraction to drivers in already-busy areas, Roedner said. "You could have five or six in a row without stretching the imagination all that much," he said.
Roedner said several people representing businesses in town expressed opposition to sign regulation, saying the existing signs provide information to the public. The response to the proposed ordinance prompted the board to go back to the drawing board with the ordinance language.
Roedner said public comment will be allowed at the Feb. 3 workshop, which begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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