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Selectmen approve moratorium on sign enforcement

Chamber and planning board to reconsider current sign ordinance

August 26, 2010
WOLFEBORO — Responding to a request from the planning board, the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen voted unanimously on Aug. 18 to impose a moratorium on the enforcement of the ordinance covering temporary portable signs until Oct. 30.

Selectman Chuck Storm, who is the board's representative to the planning board, said the planning board meeting the previous evening was packed with downtown merchants and residents concerned about the sign ordinance. Storm said Victor Drouin provided some suggestions on revising the ordinance in letter form, which Storm said he would share with his fellow selectmen. There was general agreement in the discussion that the ordinance did need a thorough review, but that since the tourist season was still going, it would be better to put off a detailed discussion until after things settle down and merchants have time to participate. To that end, Storm was asked to request a temporary moratorium on enforcement of the ordinance until later in the fall, to allow time for the review to take place.

Before the planning board meeting on Aug. 17, Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mary DeVries had sent an e-mail to members from the Chamber board requesting a meeting on the sign ordinance on Sept. 28.

Selectman Marge Webster said she had talked with three merchants who were at the planning board meeting who supported this request. She said she had seen 20 "sandwich board" signs downtown that appeared to be in violation of the ordinance, and gave her opinion that the signs should be allowed during the season. She also supported the idea of a temporary moratorium to get through the current season.

Selectman Dave Senecal pointed out that the requested temporary moratorium would only be for at most two months and said he also supported it, providing the size of such temporary signs could be limited.

Selectman Sarah Silk said she was disappointed that the planning board was making this request without addressing issues such as signs that impede pedestrian traffic and interfere with access under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She said she would prefer getting input from town department heads on the implications of the moratorium before making a decision.

Selectman Chair Linda Murray said she was concerned whether the town would be legally liable if it did not enforce the ordinance. She said that earlier that days she had seen a table and chair blocking the sidewalk and wanted to get the liability issues cleared up. She agreed with Silk that she wanted to see in writing exactly what the planning board was proposing.

Storm replied that the request was a temporary moratorium on portable "sandwich board" or A-frame signs and reiterated that the request was being made to allow time for a thorough review.

Webster moved that the board "put a moratorium on enforcement of 'sandwich board' signs approximately 2 x 3 feet and allow them in front of their own business or property, not more than two signs per location and not to impede the sidewalk, effective today through October 30th, subject to review of the town's insurance carrier for liability." Storm seconded and the motion passed unanimously.

Other business

Selectmen approved a revision to the town's Policy on Accommodations to Individuals with Disabilities that made it clear that the town would provide "program access" to all town facilities, not just Town Hall. Town Manager Dave Owen said that the change was part of a settlement agreement he was working on with the U.S. Department of Justice in the ADA complaint brought against the town.

The board approved a revision in the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with nonprofit Hearthstone Homes, which operates The Ledges and Christian Ridge senior housing facilities. Occupancy is down and there is no longer a waiting list, so a reduction in the payment was requested to $15,103.65 in 2010 and the same amount in 2011. This amount is still higher than previous years' payments.

Selectmen approved renewal of the lease for the Railroad Station spaces used by the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce. Webster abstained because she felt the rate should be higher.

Finance Director Peter Chamberlin presented a year-to-date budget report that showed expenses overall within budget and revenues generally on track.

The board agreed to nominate Ken Marschner, head of the Milfoil Committee, for the Local Government Center's Municipal Volunteer of the Year Award for "going above and beyond his duties" in working on the committee.

The board reaffirmed required policies for managing Community Development Block Grants and formally acknowledged a $1,500 grant from the Wentworth Economic Development Corp. to fund a town Economic Development Strategy Study.

Owen presented a draft Request for Proposals for Assessing Services. The current contract with Cross County Appraisal ends this year. New assessments have been mailed to property owners and hearings began last week.

Owen gave the board the good news that, based on current costs, the town may not have to increase electric rates next year. He said the town's energy consultant suggested an "extend and blend" approach where the town negotiates new future contracts now at lower rates and blend them with the current costs to keep rates stable.

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