LMPC revisits proposed sign ordinance

| Joanne Cole |

At their January 27 meeting, the Land Management Planning Committee took up possible revisions to its draft sign ordinance.  The proposed comprehensive ordinance had undergone scrutiny at a joint meeting of the planning board, select board, and LMPC on January 5, where concerns emerged about restrictions on signs on private property and the applicability of the ordinance to Pineland, among other issues. 

Back to LMPC the draft went for further work.  As a result, a new ordinance is unlikely to be finalized in time for consideration at this year’s town meeting, town planner Scott Hastings told the committee.  The objective is to bring the town’s 2001 ordinance into conformity with recent Supreme Court rulings that limit municipalities’ ability to regulate signs according to their content.

Following up on the 27th, LMPC focused initially on signs on private property.  The draft had capped at 10 per property the number of signs visible from the road, and limited the height of free-standing signs, restricted allowable illumination, and imposed safety and setback parameters.  Chair Brian Shedlarski opened the discussion by suggesting they eliminate all the proposed restrictions on private property signs.  After extensive discussion, the committee decided to retain safety and setback restrictions.  Hastings will do a rewrite.

The committee also considered whether and how ordinance provisions should apply to Pineland, with its scale, unique mix of commercial, agricultural, and recreational uses, and internal and roadside signage.  Vice president and general counsel Paul Pietropaoli had joined the joint January 27 meeting to raise some of his concerns, and he and Hastings had conferred in the interim. 

The question for the committee, Hastings said, was whether to impose some limits – for example, signs of a certain size – or trust in Pineland as responsible stewards.  Don Libby said that Pineland has been “an outstanding development project in our town,” characterizing them as “a gem we should be embracing” and working with on more projects, including perhaps the Upper Village development plan.

While she shared others’ confidence in Pineland’s management, Jean Libby commented that the town should nevertheless “protect ourselves in the future if something changed down there.”  Others agreed.  Discussion concluded with Hastings to work toward flexible yet protective language with input from Pineland’s Pietropaoli.   

The committee also tasked Hastings with refining provisions concerning commercial signs, signage for home businesses, and commercial signs in residential area.  In particular, the committee wondered whether signs in a residential zone might advertise offsite businesses and how those would be regulated under the ordinance.  Hastings will return with options for LMPC to consider.       

Whether and how to regulate illuminated signs for safety and impact on neighboring properties also came up. That in turn led to discussion about regulating lights in town more generally.  Members noted complaints about the brightness of new flashing stop signs in the Lower Village, as well as of floodlights at Town Hall and security lights at Day One at Foggs Corner on Intervale Road.  Lights and light pollution could well be a worthy topic for LMPC down the road, Hastings said.

More immediately, Hastings will return with an updated draft sign ordinance, in hopes of finalizing it at LMPC’s February meeting.  After that, it’s in for another round of review and eventually a public hearing.  “We’ll have it in our back pocket for the next time when we can get on the town meeting agenda,” Hastings said.

Before adjourning, the committee considered what might come next on their docket.  Among possibilities: updating the town’s flood plain ordinance, considering transfer of development rights, and crafting provisions for notice and appeal of use determinations by the town code enforcement officer.  The last carried the day as the priority and an ongoing concern, most recently underlying challenges to Scott Liberty’s proposed commercial medical marijuana grow facility on Penney Road, as well as with past projects. 

But first, LMPC will be back to update the sign ordinance. 

View the full January 27 LMPC meeting video here