June 18, 2018
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Houlton embraces political signs

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

HOULTON, Maine — Despite what appeared to be misgivings on the part of some town councilors, the board on Monday evening voted 5-0 to amend a municipal zoning ordinance that dictates where certain signs can be placed in town.

Town officials first amended the ordinance several years ago. While the town included wording to say where business signs may be placed in the community, it did not state where political signs may be placed.

“We’ve got to designate a place for political signs,” Town Manager Douglas Hazlett said Monday evening.

During the nearly two-hour meeting, councilors amended the Houlton zoning ordinance to state that signs bearing political messages relating to an election, primary or referendum may be placed in certain places in the community six weeks before the election. Those locations are Union Square, Market Square, Monument Park and Pierce Park. Political signs also may be placed on private property with the landowner’s written consent six weeks before the election, primary or referendum.

Residents are unlikely to notice much of a change once the amendment is made, because political signs traditionally pepper Union Square, Market Square, Monument Park and Pierce Park. They also are highly visible on private property.

The amendment will simply make their placement once again legal under town law.

Under the proposal, signs must be removed by candidates or political committees no later than a week after the election.

Those who violate the ordinance will be fined $100 a day after notification of the violation by the code enforcement officer.

During the meeting, Houlton resident Phil Bernaiche said that he felt the ordinance was unnecessarily strict. He questioned why the town wanted to require candidates to get written permission from landowners before they put a sign on that individual’s property.

“I always get permission from a landowner before I put a sign on their property, but now you need written permission?” he asked. “You are not making this easier on me. I have never had to go and get anyone’s signature to put a sign up.”

He also added that candidates usually erect political signs on Ludlow Road leading to Wal-Mart and on a stretch of land on North Street across from Marden’s. He suggested that councilors also list those locations as places where signs would be permitted under the ordinance.

Town Attorney Dan Nelson said that the amendment made to the ordinance was geared toward making sure that a sign did not go in front of someone’s house without their permission. He told councilors that requiring candidates to get written consent from a landowner before they erected a campaign sign would make the ordinance easier to enforce.

Several councilors supported the changes suggested by Bernaiche and also suggested amendments that they wanted to see. None of those ended up in the finished product.

Councilor Paul Romanelli said that he felt the ordinance should put fewer restrictions on where signs could be placed in town. He suggested eliminating the locations designated in the ordinance, such as Market Square and Monument Park, so the ordinance would be less strict.

Nelson said that the town was not in a position to say that signs could be placed on plots of land near Marden’s and Wal-Mart because the town does not own that land.

Councilor Sue Tortello said she was in favor of tabling any move to amend the ordinance while the council fine-tuned ideas. She added that the council would have nearly a year to do so in the time before the next election.

Other councilors said that they had heard from fellow residents that talking about the issue was “a waste of time” and the group eventually opted to move forward.

Councilors voted 5-0 to change the ordinance. The provision stating that a candidate needs to get written permission from a landowner before placing a political sign on his or her property remained intact.

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