Tony’s shrugs off sign ordinance

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES – There’s an almost 20-foot-high sign in the parking lot of Tony’s Foodland, flashing messages every five seconds to passers-by on Route 302. It’s a constantly changing advertising page in the skyline, a suggested grocery list written in red lights.

However, the digital board sign stands in violation of a state law, and also breaks a few sign permit ordinances of the Town of Naples. According to Naples Code Enforcement Officer Boni Rickett, a certified letter informing the corporation of the infractions has been received by the property owner, Kevin Gagnon of Shekinah LLC.

But, when Rickett talked to the owner of Tony’s Foodland, he said he did not think the business was required to apply for a permit, and he planned to keep the sign up and going, she said.

So, the Naples Board of Selectmen on Monday gave its united nod for the town to move forward with legal actions – which entails the town attorney first

SIGN IN QUESTION — Located in the parking lot of Tony’s Foodland off Route 302, this digital sign violates state law because its message changes more often than every 20 minutes.

sending Shekinah LLC a second certified letter warning of impending fines.

Then, if necessary, the town will prosecute the offending business. The fines levied could be up to $100 per square foot, each day the sign remains in violation of the ordinance, Rickett said.

“They are basically thumbing their noses at us,” Selectman Rick Paraschak said.

The state law – designed to eliminate potential distractions to drivers – does not allow a digital board to change its message more often than every 20 minutes, according to Rickett. The state gave some flexibility to each municipality in Maine, the ability to allow some exceptions to the law. The town extended its permission (through an ordinance) to the Naples Fire and Rescue Department for the digital sign in front of the public safety building.

“We created an ordinance that gives the town sign the right to change more frequently than every 20 minutes - if needed. But all others have to abide by the state law,” Rickett said.

In addition to infringing upon that ordinance, the company is also breaking the town’s ordinance governing the number and size of signs that can be erected, she said. Before putting up its most recent sign, Tony’s did not pay for a permit through the code enforcement department. The cost of the permit would have been calculated by the square footage of the actual digital board – at a rate of $1 per-square-foot, she said.

“The issue is that he already has more signs than the ordinance allows. In order to put up this new sign, he would have to remove other signs,” Rickett said, adding that has not been done.

During a phone interview on Wednesday, Dave Allenson, the owner of The Umbrella Factory, which does business as Tony’s Foodland, said he was under the impression his new sign was on the up and up.

He said compared to other local businesses that have huge signs, there is one sign in his parking lot to advertise several businesses in the strip mall.

He said he didn’t change anything size-wise. He put up the digital board, which replaced the sign of a former tenant in the mall where Tony’s is located. He thought because the Fire and Rescue department has a changing digital sign, it was permissible in town.

“I thought I was justified in what I was doing,” he said, adding that his messages were informative to the community, too.

Allenson said his first order of business is to contact his landlord and ask about the certified letter. Then, he will sort things out with the Code Enforcement Department.

During Monday’s meeting, Paraschak said he got calls from two local business owners, complaining about Tony’s infraction of the sign ordinance and asking if anything was being done about it. Those people said it appeared as if the town hadn’t done anything; and if that was the case, they’d be ordering new digital signs for their businesses, too, he said.

Selectman Robert Caron Sr. said although he doesn’t always agree with the town’s ordinances, the one governing digital signs exists, and “everyone has to adhere to it.”

Other selectmen agreed with a move to show the town maintains a “level playing field,” and doesn’t let some business owners bend the rules while others follow them.

“It’s part of our ordinance,” Paraschak said. “We gave permission to the fire department to have their digital message change more often (than state law.) We can’t have a sign flashing ‘pizza’ every few minutes.”

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