Temporary signs: blight or boon?

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Several businesses are objecting to an effort by the Bridgton Planning Board to eliminate the use of temporary signs, saying such signs are crucial to their ability to stay in business.

Code Enforcement Officer Robbie Baker has sent letters to businesses that use the freestanding signs, which are usually placed close to the right-of-way to attract attention, saying the signs violate the town’s current sign ordinance.

The town has not closely enforced the 90-limit on temporary signs in the sign ordinance, even though it was passed in 2000. But the Planning Board is now reviewing changes to the rules, which highlighted the violations taking place in both the Downtown Business District and Route 302 corridor.

Under the proposed revisions, the language allowing portable signs for 90 days on the property of a business has been removed. In its place is language allowing temporary signs for 45 days, which then must be made permanent or removed.

Removable letters on a reader board under the permanent sign are preferred by the board to using freestanding temporary signs close to the road, which could interfere with line of sight for drivers. Sandwich boards are still allowed under the changes, but they must be taken in each night. The changes will need to be presented at a public hearing and voted on by residents before taking effect.

“When I was driving in from Fryeburg on Route 302 west I think I counted 14” of the temporary signs, said Planning Board Chairman Steve Collins, at a Nov. 23 workshop on the ordinance changes. “To me they’re a blight. Some of them have been there so long trees are growing up around them. That’s an exaggeration, but they’ve been there for years. This is an effort to make them uniform and to try to minimize it.”

Bob Logan, owner of R.G. Johnson Ski and Sports, said he projects that between 15 and 20% of a business’s revenue is generated from temporary signs. He told of a salesman who came in the other day because his sign advertised a clearance on water-skis, and he made a $300 sale, “a sale I would not have had” if not for the sign. “I know you probably want them incorporated into the permanent sign,” but nothing attracts as much attention as a sign at the edge of the road, he said.

Businessman Peter Kopoulos, who owns the Beef ‘n Ski Restaurant on the Portland Road, said putting restrictions on them, such as those requiring regular maintenance and landscaping, is the better route for the town to go.

“These signs are our biggest promotional tool. Why in heaven’s name we would choose to take them out, in this economy, is beyond me.”

Since getting his letter from Baker, and taking his temporary sign down a week and a half ago, Kopoulos said his business has dropped by 7%. Kopoulos opened his business in Bridgton in 2005. “People come in and say do you still have that special that you had two weeks ago?” The temporary signs keep his customers up to date on menu changes, and allow him and other businesses to sell overstocked or surplus items quickly.

Reader boards attached to the main sign are not as effective as temporary signs because they “becomes a part of the sign — you don’t read it,” said Kopoulos. “A portable reader board sells — it promotes the product.”

Board member Dee Miller, a strong proponent of cleaning up temporary signs, said “my parents were in retailing, I understand about signs. We’ve tried to make it more encompassing and more fair. We’ve always said you can have two signs, one freestanding and one for identification” (attached to the building).

Koupolous gave an example. If he bought $1,000 worth of clams for a big ski weekend, and there was a blizzard, he could use the temporary signs to offer the clams half off.

“I find it criminal that the only answer is, get them (temporary signs) out of there. There has to be another way,” Kopoulos said. His Beef ‘n Ski restaurant was located in North Conway, N.H. for 22 years, and he used temporary signs there — until the town banned their use. It drove him out of business, even though he fought the ban, he said.

“You can’t find a reader board in North Conway — they’re all chains. It’s unfortunate. You’re not going to find a local restaurant there, and I think that’s a shame, especially during these times,” Kopoulos said.

Collins said one of the problems lies with enforcement. Even with restrictions, Baker would have to decide when the temporary signs are not being properly maintained.

“How do you define ugly so that you have an enforceable definition? He said, then added, “I wish you folks had been here through the course of these deliberations.”

Board member Gordon Davis pointed out that he had tried unsuccessfully to table discussion on the temporary signs until Alan Manoian, the town’s Economic and Community Development Director, could visit the businesses to get their feedback. “It was voted down,” he said. Davis suggested that the town find out what rules are in place regarding temporary signs in other towns along the Route 302 corridor.

Member Fred Davis said there are strong arguments on both sides of the issue, and there is “validity” in having the board consider the ordinance’s potential impact on business sales.

The board agreed to consider a waiver of the temporary sign ban in Kopoulous’s case, as long as he submits a request in writing. That waiver will be formally considered at the board’s next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

Manoian apologized to the businessmen that the town hadn’t used better communication in the signage rules in the past. “You and your customers have become conditioned to it, and now we say it’s a violation.” But he pointed out that Portland Road, with its mix of styles and signs, looks “transient,” and “ramshackle” and “is not attractive.”

Yet the highway is a gateway to the downtown, and it “makes a powerful first impression, and my job is to attract new business to this town. When it comes to temporary signs, he said, “Some will do it right, but most won’t.”

Please follow and like us: