CUMBERLAND — A six-month moratorium on any new, internally illuminated outdoor signs is in effect after a unanimous vote Monday by the Town Council.
The council also elected George Turner as its new chairman, and Mike Edes as vice chairman. Eliza Porter was named deputy town clerk and communications director.
Additionally, the council unanimously approved a Twin Brook Recreation Area forest harvesting agreement with Jeff Storey, who runs neighboring Spring Brook Farm.
The Town Council Ordinance Committee requested the moratorium, to give it time to develop an ordinance governing what are commonly known as LED signs, Town Manager Bill Shane told the council.
Signs lit from within are prohibited everywhere in town, except those grandfathered on properties like Greely High School, where the use predates the town’s existing sign ordinance, according to Shane.
While the town may eventually allow some of the signs, it must first take a comprehensive look at how they should be regulated, he said. The Ordinance Committee will research what other communities across the state and New England do, and “come up with a model that would be applicable and workable for all our zones.”
A request from the Cumberland Congregational Church to place an LED sign on its property at 282 Main St. prompted the study, Shane said. Churches are only permitted in the town’s residential zones, set up that way so that people could walk from their homes to services, Shane noted.
The church has expressed support for the moratorium, while neighbors are “kind of in a ‘wait and see’ mode” regarding the process, Shane said.
Turner noted that he, Edes and Councilor Shirley Storey-King – all members of the Ordinance Committee – agree that the temporary prohibition should take place, “because there are just so many questions, and unintended consequences that might result from trying to come up with something too quickly.”
Steve Moriarty, chairman of the Planning Board, will work with the Ordinance Committee on the study.
Shane said a plan for harvesting parts of the Twin Brook Recreation Area forest is “long overdue.”
The plan would take “smaller cuts out of the forest, cleaning it up as we go, and giving us some flexibility on which sections of the forest could be shut down for harvesting, and which would be left open,” he added. “… The impact on the forest would be hopefully invisible to most of the public.”
The work would occur during the winter, and Storey plans to provide the town about $2,000 to $5,000 a year in revenue from the harvesting, Shane said. Forester Chip Love developed the forestry management plan.
John Leavitt, who serves on the Twin Brook Advisory Committee and spent more than 20 years as a ranger with the Maine Forest Service, expressed several concerns about the plan, including what he called a “lack of obvious or apparent logging experience” on Storey’s part.
He also noted that Paul Larrivee, a forester with Sappi Fine Paper, had prepared a management plan two years ago, and questioned why a new one was developed.
Councilor Ron Copp said he spoke with Larrivee about the matter, and that while Larrivee noted that he had prepared a forestry management plan for the town at no charge, he was “OK” with Storey doing the work.
“The reason we hired a forester that the two of us could agree on,” Shane said of himself and Storey, “was to basically put together an independent plan.”
Shane said he told Love that “I don’t want a mess when you leave. I don’t want it visible from any trails … and I want people not to know that we’d been there logging.”
The manager added that Storey had worked many years in the woods with others, and that he had not felt with outside firms that he had not felt that he had any input, “or anybody had any skin in the game … with Jeff, I see him every week, and I know he has skin in the game.”
“This is a plan that we came up with as an alternative to basically going in there with a large harvest,” Shane added.
Although the Town Council authorized Shane to enter into a contract with Sappi in 2014, that pact was never consummated, due to particularly non-conducive winter conditions preventing forestry work, the manager said Tuesday.
“Then this other opportunity came along, and we moved forward with that,” he added.
Greely High School is one place in Cumberland allowed to have an internally illuminated outdoor sign. The town will look into regulating similar LED signs over the next six months.