May 20, 2019
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Cost to resolve Criterion dispute: $4,000

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A dispute between town officials and people who run a nonprofit theater may be headed to a resolution.

The issue is over the Criterion Theater’s new marquee, which was installed over the theater’s main Cottage Street entrance last April. The town has fined the theater over the marquee because municipal officials said it did not match the proposed design that the town’s design review board approved in December 2007.

The town told the theater it had to remove certain elements from the new marquee that had not been approved by the board. The word “the” and the year “1932” had been added to the top of the marquee without the town’s approval, and strips of neon that follow the contour of the marquee, blue on the top and green on the bottom, also were not in the plans the board had approved.

The theater reapplied to the design review board and got permission to keep “1932” and the green neon strip, but was told it still had to remove the word “the” and the blue neon. The theater appealed the decision to the town’s appeals board, which upheld the design review board decision.

“We didn’t ever foresee this being such an issue,” William Reiff, a member of the theater’s board, told the Town Council Tuesday night.

Reiff met with the council Tuesday during its regular meeting to discuss a consent agreement on the violation and resulting fine. Citing the costs it has incurred in pursuing the matter and further expenses it likely will face before the matter is fully resolved, council members indicated that they would be willing to levy a $4,000 fine as part of the consent agreement.

Reiff, a lawyer by trade, told the board that the dollar amount is likely to be the trickiest part in reaching an agreement.

“You want $4,000; I had in mind $1,” Reiff told the board. “Other than that, I don’t disagree with anything else [in the proposed agreement].”

Theater officials have told the town that the cost of the marquee, which has been reported to be $150,000, significantly exceeded their budget, and consequently they have no money with which to pay any fine.

Councilor Paul Paradis, who suggested the $4,000 fine, said that the town wanted to recover its expenses and has to be consistent in how it enforces its sign ordinance.

“We’re backed into a corner, too,” Paradis told Reiff. “That’s why I put the $4,000 in there.”

Rob Jordan, a council member and president of the theater, recused himself from the discussion.

Attempts Thursday to contact Jordan, Reiff, Criterion building owner Erin Uliano and other theater officials were unsuccessful.

Reiff and members of the council also discussed the town’s position of not granting future permits for any activities in the theater building as long as the sign is not in compliance and the fine has not been paid. Reiff said that because the theater does not own the building, theater officials could not sign off on the town’s position on future permitting. That issue would have to be addressed between the town and Uliano, Reiff said.

The issue seemed to be resolved, however, when it came up during the discussion that the town’s position on permitting while the marquee matter remains unresolved was required by state law. Neither the theater organization nor the building owner has any say in whether a state statute can be enforced, officials said.

“The town is not allowed to issue any permits to that owner,” Town Manager Dana Reed told the council.

Reed said Thursday that the town plans to have its attorney review the proposed consent agreement and that the council is expected to revisit the issue in the near future.


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