Signs of the times

For years, towns on Mount Desert Island have embraced tight controls over commercial signage. Those local rules, in combination with state regulations limiting and standardizing off-premise signs, have prevented MDI’s roadsides from becoming obscured by hundreds of gaudy signs hawking everything from discount lobster dinners to wool trapper’s blankets.

A recent controversy over the placement of temporary event signs in intersection medians suggest, however, that some of the existing rules may be unrealistically restrictive.

Code enforcement officials in island towns routinely remove illegal signs without notice. Earlier this month, members of several area nonprofit organizations became upset when temporary signs advertising events open to the public were taken down.

Other signs, placed in median strips and at intersections by promoters of for-profit events, also were removed, including signs in downtown Bar Harbor advertising an event in Southwest Harbor.

That practice has been followed over the years in Mount Desert, as well.

According to the rules in Bar Harbor, nonprofits wishing to place temporary signs along the road first must apply for permission by the town council. Because the council only meets twice a month, however, that seems an unreasonable burden. Why does the council need to be involved in something so transitory and inconsequential?

A more common sense approach might allow legitimate nonprofits to place signs directing the public to their events, such as art shows, craft fairs, seafood festivals or concerts for one day only, with a simple permit from the code enforcement officer. That office is open five days per week, making the application process relatively simple.

To prevent temporary signs from becoming permanent, organizers of multi-day events would need to choose which day was most important. A maximum radius of two or three miles from an event could be set to avoid a proliferation of signs at every intersection for miles around. Limits could be placed on size to avoid a counterproductive cycle of one-upmanship.

Temporary commercial signs should continue to be prohibited to avoid unfair advantage over established businesses.

Organizers of important fundraising events for local charities put a lot of effort into attracting attendance. The money earned from these events helps nourish our communities and address pressing societal needs. Inspiring some of the area’s legions of visitors to stop by, on the spur of the moment, is an important part of any event outreach. Since it is not unusual for participants to come from miles around, temporary signs are a neighborly way to help them reach their final destination.

Considering the plethora of event offerings during the summer on Mount Desert Island, it is unrealistic to ban all event signs from area roadsides. Officials in island towns should reexamine the current regulations and consider adopting common sense rules that balance the need of nonprofits to make money in peak season against worries that roadsides might be overrun by unsightly signs.



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