Topsham planners work on updated sign regulations

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TOPSHAM — Revision of the town’s sign ordinance is beginning and could go to a vote next year.

Voters have rejected proposed sign ordinance amendments, including those regarding digital signs, at the past two Town Meetings. With this in mind, the Planning Board is updating the entire sign code, rather than making piecemeal changes.

Planning Director Rich Roedner said members of the public have said digital signs are appropriate for Topsham Fair Mall Road, that signs should reflect Topsham’s small-town nature, that they should not blink or change frequently, that signs on Main Street should be smaller, that no signs in town should be larger than 32 square feet, and that rural areas should have smaller signs made only of wood or composite material.

People also suggested the town rely on sign manufacturers for help in developing the code, that the size of a sign is a function of distance and speed, and that sign rule options are important to businesses in the mall area.

Roedner said that as Topsham created new zones along Main Street a year ago, it neglected to address the issue of signs in those zones.

One key issue with the zoning ordinance is that it uses terminology that is not defined, Roedner said last week; addressing that concern will be one of the board’s first objectives. He said Topsham’s code has more than 20 different types of signs, many of which are not defined.

The next step could be a look at sign regulations, such as allowable sizes in each zone.

Directory signs, such as those that point people driving along Route 196 to businesses on Topsham Fair Mall Road, are another concern. One stands at the intersection of the two roads and was allowed because it replaced a previous sign, but as a rule, off-premise signs of that size are not allowed.

The newer sign lists the larger businesses on Topsham Fair Mall Road, but does not have room for smaller businesses located in what is considered the mall itself. But under existing code, another sign of that nature would not be allowed on that road.

It has been said that Topsham has three types of sign districts, Roedner noted: commercial, mixed use on Main Street, and residential and rural.

“And we can’t treat them all the same,” he said. “Because what makes sense on (Route) 196 doesn’t makes sense on some home occupation in a residential district.”

A package of ordinance amendments could go through the Planning Board and then to the Board of Selectmen to be included on a Town Meeting warrant; it could also be decided by referendum.

Input on the sign ordinance can be e-mailed to Roedner at rroedner@topshammaine.com, and he can also be reached at 725-1724.

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

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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.