Time of the signs

| Penny Hilton |

New Gloucester’s Land Management Planning Committee (LMPC) is in the middle of revising the town’s Sign Ordinance – before the town gets trouble.

In 1998, at town meeting, New Gloucester voters approved what seemed a reasonable ordinance governing outdoor signage in town. This ordinance, amended in 2001, is in effect now. Distinctions are organized primarily on the basis of what the signs are intended to communicate. Regulations regarding signs indicating restrooms are different from signs advertising fresh produce at farm stands, which are different from signs advertising real estate, and so on.

In 2015, however, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case known as Reed vs. Town of Gilbert, ruled that making distinctions among signs based on what they called “content” is an abridgement of free speech. Reed, in this case, the pastor of a church, won, and the town lost.

What the Supreme Court did allow was regulations based on physical considerations like size, number, and location. For New Gloucester that means striking out much of the existing ordinance, or per Town Planner Scott Hastings’s advice, replacing it entirely. “It’s been on the to-do list for a while,” explains Hastings, “and this is when we got to it.”

The new draft ordinance begins by specifying aesthetics and safety as its main concerns, and states directly that it is not intended “to regulate contents of signs or impede on the rights of free speech in New Gloucester.” After that, it’s all about sign size, height, distance from the road, permanence (or non-), and illumination.

This draft is still under discussion by LMPC. The final version of the ordinance is expected to go to vote at town meeting in 2021.

The Land Management Planning Committee serves as an advisory board that reviews ordinances and regulations, and it also develops long-range plans, such as the Upper Village Master Plan. Learn more about the committee here. It has most recently addressed zoning changes to manage solar energy arrays and voluntary architectural guidelines to maintain the visual aesthetics of the town.

The LMPC meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month, and will meet next by Zoom on September 23, at 6 p.m. To “attend” the meeting, email Sharlene Myers at for meeting login codes.

A drive around town suggests the variety of signs that could be affected by a new sign ordinance. | Photos: Penny Hilton