LED signs still off-limits in Cumberland center

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday narrowly rejected a proposal that would have allowed illuminated outdoor signs in the Town Center District.

The panel also approved a contract with a company to conduct browntail moth spraying along Foreside Road.

The vote on LED signs was 4-3, with Councilors Ron Copp, Bill Stiles, Shirley Storey-King and George Turner opposed and Peter Bingham, Mike Edes and Tom Gruber in favor.

The Planning Board in February recommended repealing and replacing the sign ordinance, but excluded provisions governing LED signs. The council’s Ordinance Subcommittee favored adding provisions that would have allowed the signs.

A follow-up vote Monday, on whether to approve the ordinance changes to reflect the Planning Board recommendation – and therefore leave out LED signs – went 4-3 in favor, with Copp, Stiles, Storey-King and Turner in favor and Bingham, Edes and Gruber opposed.

The council had previously tabled the matter March 27.

The updated code governs only new signs. Signs lit from within are prohibited everywhere in town, except those grandfathered on properties like Greely High School, where the use predates the sign ordinance. The new code would have only allowed LED signs in the Town Center District.

A request from the Cumberland Congregational Church to place an LED sign on its 282 Main St. property prompted the town’s study. The School Administrative District 51 parent-teacher organization has mentioned purchasing an LED sign for the Mabel I. Wilson school, 353 Tuttle Road, which is not in the Town Center District.

The church is already in that district, which covers Main Street from the congregational church to Atlantic Credit Union, just beyond Farwell Avenue. That area also includes the former Doc’s Cafe, the Cumberland Food Stop, and Louie’s Grill.

To facilitate the Wilson school’s ability to have an LED sign, the Town Council on Monday was also to vote on the expansion of the Town Center District, in order for it to stretch down Tuttle Road to the Greely Middle School driveway, and contain the Wilson School. The district would have also been expanded in order to include Greely High.

Because the council rejected including LED language in the sign ordinance, the council put off the related vote on the zone expansion.

The proposed sign rules called for new LED signs to, in part, be no more than 42-by-72-inches; operate only from 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; adhere to a specific number of illumination units (10,000 nits); change only once every 20 minutes, and be black and white only.

Paul Auclair of Olivia Lane, a member of the church, said that “when we first requested the ordinance be changed … our thinking was to maintain the aesthetics and rural appearance of Cumberland, and Main Street.”

Externally lit signs, which can be seen along Main Street, are more obtrusive than the kind of interior-lit sign the church proposed, Auclair said. Whereas many LED signs are meant to grab one’s attention with fancy graphics and animations, “we’re looking for communication, and communication only,” he added.

Carolyn Currie, whose Main Street home is neighbored by businesses, has pointed out how the town center was residential when she moved there 13 years ago but was later rezoned to permit mixed uses. She has expressed concern that LED signs would shine into her windows at night.

“Every property on Main Street has the potential of becoming a commercial property,” with an LED sign potentially on each parcel someday, she said. “While I think that the church should have one, if they could have one, what I don’t want to see is the march of LED signs down Main Street.”

Bingham called the impact “overstated, given the regulations as far as the illumination … (and) design,” adding that in the Town Center District design standards, “there’s enough built in so that these things are going to be tasteful.”

“I’ve struggled with this more than anything that (the council has) talked about in the last year,” Copp said. “I’m just afraid that Main Street is going to be littered with signs.”

Given the well-lit nature of the intersection of Main Street with Tuttle and Blanchard roads, right at the center of town, Copp said he would favor LED signs being allowed only in a 250-foot circle around that intersection, which would include the church. The town attorney has said that cannot be done, Turner noted.

Caterpillar spraying

The council earlier Monday heard a presentation about browntail moth caterpillar infestation in parts of Maine from Charlene Donahue, a forest entomologist with the Maine Forest Service.

The panel later voted to hire Whitney Tree Service, which the town also employed last year, to spray for the moths along Foreside Road, as long as most residents there opt into the program.

Of the nearly 600 notices sent out to residents asking consent for their properties to be sprayed, the town has heard back from less than 20 percent, Town Manager Bill Shane said Monday. About 90 percent were in favor. 

No response implies consent, the notice advised, “so it is important if you don’t want it, to return this back to us,” Shane said.

The forms should be sent to the Cumberland Town Office, 290 Tuttle Road, Cumberland, ME 04021 by Wednesday, April 26. They can also be faxed to 829-2224 or emailed to wshane@cumberlandmaine.com.

Spraying from a slow-moving truck is scheduled between 4:30 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. next month.

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

Shown at the March 27 Cumberland Town Council meeting, the Cumberland Congregational Church sign, at left, is compared to an illuminated sign at 7 percent lumination power.

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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.