FALMOUTH, Maine — The owner of TideSmart Global said Tuesday that he will not proceed with plans for a $3 million office building because of the Falmouth Town Council’s recent discussion about his existing business sign.
“If I can’t do business with a sign, how can I try to work with them on a building,” said Steve Woods, who is also the chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council and an independent candidate for U.S. Senate.
Woods, in an interview at his Route 1 office, displayed renderings of the building he said he had planned to build in Falmouth — until last week’s council meeting.
On Aug. 27, according to its agenda, the council was scheduled to discuss “an amendment to the Zoning and Site Plan Review Ordinance to review the requirements for property identification signs.” Instead, they spent 47 minutes specifically discussing Woods’ sign and potential fines because it is not in compliance.
“This is not an idiot,” Councilor Bonny Rodden said during the discussion. “He doesn’t respect us, he doesn’t respect our rules and he doesn’t respect the business community.”
Councilor Chris Orestis called for a “big ‘ol fine” that would “hurt,” rather than a small fine he compared to paying a parking ticket.
According to the town, TideSmart Global’s sign on Route 1 has been out of compliance since it was built in March 2010.
Council Chairwoman Faith Varney said lettering on the word “Global” is 4 inches tall instead of the required 5 inches, and the height of the stone wall is 8 feet instead of the maximum 7 feet.
According to a memorandum to councilors, in July of 2010 Woods approached the council for a zoning amendment to add a second sign and a month later the Community Development Committee began work on the amendment, which was approved in January 2011. However, his sign was still out of compliance with the ordinance.
Finally, in November 2011, Woods sought an amendment from the own requesting a change to the zoning to accommodate the signs. Councilor Teresa Pierce agreed to introduce the amendment in July.
Woods said that although he wanted something done so that his sign would be in compliance, he did not want a second ordinance change.
“Even though I’m impacted by this, and I want something done, I didn’t want the ordinance changed,” he said. “I just wanted a consent agreement and [have them] say, ‘Your accent word is an accent word, it’s 4 inches instead of 5, OK.’”
Woods said he is upset that the council spent so much time talking about how he isn’t following the rules. But Varney said councilors are equally frustrated that the process has continued for so long.
“It’s sort of like the straw that broke the camel’s back and this is just one of several incidences that he has done something and then come to the council and said please approve this,” she said.
Comments by Orestis specifically upset Woods, who said that as a taxpayer who spends his money with local businesses, employs residents and developed an otherwise unused property, being publicly disparaged is “egregious.” Woods said he wonders what kind of activity Orestis wants to discourage with potential fines.
“You have somebody who has invested in the community,” Woods said. “I used to speak at the high school every year for Senior Day; I’ve donated to education funds; I’ve paid $79,000 in taxes in the last two years to Falmouth and have provided jobs. I have literally invested millions of dollars in Falmouth. What kind of behavior does he want to deter?”
Orestis said that his comments were not directly aimed at Woods, but more specifically the business community at large.
“I don’t think, at least for myself, I never disparaged him personally, I never think I used his name,” he said. “If there was going to be a fine, it needed to be a big fine; you can’t send a message to the other business owners who follow the rules [that you] reward people who don’t” follow the rules.
Both Varney and Orestis said that Woods took the council discussion too personally.
“I think that he’s making the mountain out of the mole hill,” Varney said. “The council is very frustrated and probably said some things that were a little beyond what they should have said, but he’s the one making the big deal.”
Varney said that she does not believe a consent agreement is forthcoming. She said town staff has been directed to determine a possible fine.
Town Manager Nathan Poore could not be reached Tuesday to discuss the probability of a fine.
Although his office building project is now off the table, Woods said he thinks it is still possible to reach a resolution on the sign.
“I believe in the law,” he said. “I believe in following the rules and I will continue to work with Falmouth to reach some sort of accommodation.”