Magic Lantern gets waiver on changeable sign

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The Maine Department of Transportation contacted the town of Bridgton recently to force compliance on a law requiring a 20-minute interval between messages displayed on changeable electronic signs. The law, adopted around seven years ago, arose from the concern that drivers would be distracted by signs with colored text messages that are continuously changing.

Some towns have taken the view, however, that a 20-minute interval between changes is excessively long. At their Aug. 5 meeting, the Bridgton Planning Board joined that group. The board granted a waiver to the Magic Lantern Theatre to allow an eight-second interval on its flashing sign announcing both theater movie times and special events at the Tannery Pub.

The waiver essentially allows the Magic Lantern to use its sign the same way it has always done since rebuilding the complex in 2008.

Bridgton has three other businesses — McDonald’s, Food City and Bridgton Veterinary Hospital — that use changeable electronic signs. None of these businesses have, to date, requested a waiver. Bridgton Veterinary Hospital has not been operating its sign for some now because of a malfunction.

Code Enforcement Officer Robbie Baker told the board that an MDOT employee contacted him recently “because we have illegal signs in town.” He said the signs are illegal because they change more often than 20 minutes. The changeable signs are not the same as a flashing sign, one that changes every second, which are not allowed, he said.

Baker said the state needed written verification from the town that the businesses had permission under the Sign Ordinance to use a shorter interval on changeable signs. Waivers are allowed under Bridgton’s Sign Ordinance.

Magic Lantern Theater owner Frank Howell told the board that because he has two businesses, the pub and movie theater, he needed to be able to vary the message on the sign.

“We feel it’s important for the town to have that information readily available,” Howell said. “We will not flash or animate it, and it’s a monochrome sign.”

Board member Brian Thomas said that when the board recently made revisions and updates to the Sign Ordinance, “We agreed to follow the state regulations” stipulating the 20-minute interval on changeable signs.

Baker recommended that the board grant waivers to allow the four businesses to keep operating their signs as they have been, and that any new changeable signs must conform to the 20-minute rule.

Board Alternate Adam Grant, who has spoken previously against electronic signs, said he wanted more time to think about the issue before making a decision.

That didn’t sit well with Howell.

“With all due respect, we do 50 percent of our revenue in six weeks that started July 1. There is a pressing economic issue for this,” he said.

Howell said, “The moment we were notified by the state that we were in violation, we stopped” programming the sign to change. “Nobody else in town did. We are obeying the rules. I’m here in front of you, saying please. It’s not a rush to justice, it’s a really simple situation.”

Grant said he didn’t object to giving Howell a waiver, but that he wanted to be sure Bridgton could shorten the 20-minute standard to eight seconds.

Howell assured him that other towns had done so, and Baker agreed.

Board member Mike Figoli said, “I’m fine with it,” since the Magic Lantern sign displays text only. Thomas seconded his motion to allow the waiver.

Board member Dee Miller said she’d like to also have the board grant waivers to the other businesses. It’s an easy thing to change, you just program it,” she said.

Howell was opposed to Miller’s suggestion. “We’re showing respect by being here. No one else is here,” he said. “I’m not interested in helping them.”

Miller said the state’s 20-minute rule “is unreasonable — you’d have to go to Naples and back to see the sign change.” But she did say that some of the changeable electronic signs “are changing much too fast — I think it is a distraction.”


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