June 23, 2018
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Billboard foes, business advocates clash during hearing on sign bill

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would allow business owners to erect large signs on their properties triggered debate Friday between those who said the measure would help businesses and others who called the bill a “slippery slope” toward allowing billboards in Maine.

Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, the bill’s primary sponsor, insists that his bill as written would not legalize billboards.

“I am sure that you have heard from many people and organizations, as I have, that this bill would lead to the obliteration of our scenic roadway and bring back billboards that once dominated our landscape,” Keschl said in written comments that were delivered by another lawmaker Friday to the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. “In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Keschl’s bill, “An Act to Promote Small Businesses by Enhancing the Use of Off-Premises Signs,” would make a range of changes to Maine’s sign laws:

• The bill would extend the distance that a sign may be erected away from the associated business from 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet.

• It would allow the placement of on-premises signs within 20 feet from the edge of certain public ways.

• It would increase the number of allowable signs on the approach to a business from two to three if the business is more than 1,000 feet from a public way and increases the total surface area for those signs to 100 square feet per side.

• It would allow electronic changeable signs to change once per minute, as opposed to once every 20 minutes, which is what Maine law currently allows.

• It allows a business to have one changeable sign per public way that a business abuts and allows changeable signs on the interstate system.

• It allows time and temperature signs to change as frequently as once every two seconds.

• It increases the maximum height of a free-standing sign structure from 25 to 35 feet.

Keschl argues that his bill would help businesses in rural towns match their urban counterparts in terms of attention-grabbing signs on their property. Quincy Hentzel, director of governmental affairs for the Maine Credit Union League, said credit unions are among the most common users of electronic signs, which is why the league favors Keschl’s bill.

“There are stringent restrictions on the use of these signs, which does devalue them as an investment and prevents us from using them to their full potential,” said Hentzel.

But numerous opponents, such as Pete Didisheim, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said allowing signs that are larger or more automated would erode Maine’s natural beauty.

“We believe Maine was far-sighted when it adopted the billboard ban law more than 30 years ago and we would be short-sighted today if we messed with it,” said Didisheim. “If one were to poll people visiting Maine from other states, it seems more likely than not that a majority would wish that their states had a similar law in place because in most places other than Maine roadside advertising seems totally out of control.”

The Transportation Committee has not yet scheduled its next hearing on the bill. Two years ago, the committee killed a similar bill by a unanimous vote.

The committee also dealt with another bill having to do with signs: “A Resolve to Require Signs Recognizing the 45th Parallel North in Maine.” The bill, sponsored by Rep. Anita Peavey Haskell, R-Milford, would require the Department of Transportation to erect signs recognizing the 45th parallel — which is the midpoint between the equator and the North Pole — on Interstate 95 in Argyle Township and on Route 2 in Milford.

“These road signs would give our communities a point of pride,” Peavey Haskell said while introducing her bill. “Small towns don’t have many significant points of interest like the 45th Parallel.”

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