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Selectmen clarify terms of sign moratorium, but decline to extend it

September 09, 2010
WOLFEBORO — On Sept. 1 selectmen revisited the moratorium on portable sign enforcement voted in at their last meeting on Aug. 18. In the end they decided to clarify the language of the moratorium and resisted pleas to extend it through the Christmas season.

Discussion of the town sign ordinance had been precipitated by the town filing suit against Downtown Market Grille for failure to comply with the ordinance by placing and refusing to remove an A-frame or sandwich board sign at the corner of Main Street and Railroad Avenue, down the block from the business. That situation was resolved by Grille owner Michelle Fabricant removing the sign and the town withdrawing the suit. Fabricant claimed that sign ordinance enforcement was highly selective, and the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce called for businesses to meet on Sept. 28 to discuss potential revisions of the sign ordinance.

Selectman Chair Linda Murray began the Sept. 1 discussion by saying that a rumor that two selectmen were trying to renew sign enforcement was not true. She also said she was disappointed that the Board of Selectmen was given an inaccurate report of the Aug. 17 planning board meeting, upon which they based their decision. At the Aug. 18 meeting Selectman Chuck Storm, selectmen's representative to the planning board said he had been asked to request that selectmen place a moratorium on temporary sign enforcement until the tourist season was over to allow time to consider potential changes to the ordinance.

On Aug. 26 Planning Board Chair Kathy Barnard sent an email to the Board of Selectmen stating "The Planning Board did not request that the Board of Selectmen consider imposing a moratorium on sign enforcement. Barnard added that if her board had so voted, she would have sent "a written memo outlining the Planning Board's concerns and recommendations for such an action, in accordance with the Planning Board's Rules of Procedure."

Selectman Sarah Silk said she felt the process was "an embarrassment" and apologized for the criticisms she made of the planning board and planning department on Aug. 18. She also apologized for "a fellow Board of Selectmen member" [Storm] who "substituted personal enthusiasm for explicit instruction" and made "a gross representation of the facts."

Selectman Marge Webster said she was annoyed that Silk "threw the planning board representative under the bus." She said she strongly supported the use of A-frame signs during the tourist season and said she did not like rehashing the moratorium decision.

Murray responded that she felt the public needs to know the facts and that the wording of the moratorium needs to be made clearer. She then proposed revised wording for the moratorium that made the size of the signs no more than two by three feet, limited signs to two per location in front of the business itself, and required that at least four feet of sidewalk be kept clear to provide accessibility compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Public input

Jerome Holden of JC Signs said he was concerned that selectmen were only allowing a month and a half to correct the ordinance when any changes proposed will have to wait for voter approval in March 2011. Storm responded that he felt the time was adequate and Murray pointed out the moratorium was only intended as a stopgap measure.

Holden pointed out that in 1997 you could have a temporary banner up for 21 days, and that provision is now missing from the ordinance. He also said the town is requiring business signs be set back 75 feet vs. the state's requirement of 50 feet and gave the example of the Kingswood Youth Center sign, set at 75 feet and barely visible vs. the All About Kitchens sign next door on Center Street that is set a 50 feet. He also asserted that most businesses did not realize how bad the ordinance was until Code Enforcement Officer Audrey Cline started to enforce it.

Selectman Dave Senecal responded that these concerns should be brought to the planning board and that "they will listen." He said the tourist season ends on Oct. 15 so that a moratorium that runs to the end of October should be OK. Webster added that "a little bite at the apple is better than none" and hoped people will help the planning board address the issue. "We should do everything in our power to help businesses stay in business."

Paul Jenne of Flags Over Winnipesaukee said he was at the Aug. 17 planning board meeting and felt that board was sympathetic to the idea of a moratorium even if it did not vote for it. He thanked selectmen for putting the moratorium in place.

Barbara Bridges of Bridges Hallmark said her busiest month was December and asked, "Could the moratorium be extended till after the Christmas season?" Franz Haas of The Folk Cellar and Diane Tremblay of Winni Paw Station voiced their support of the Christmas extension. Tremblay added, "I need customers to know I am open year round." Bob Brunton of Back Bay Rehab said he also needed signs year round.

Webster supported Bridges request by proposing to emend Murray's motion to extend the moratorium through Dec. 31. Murray responded that the request to extend did not come from the planning board, but that if the planning board makes that request the Board of Selectmen should consider it. Silk and Senecal agreed. Webster's motion failed and the board approved of Murray's changes, with the Oct. 31 deadline intact, by a vote of 4-1 with Webster in the negative.

Fabricant asked if there were A-frame signs out on Nov. 1, would they be cited? The answer was "yes."

Cable franchise renewal

Bill Saunders of the Cable TV Advisory Committee made a presentation to the board on the committee's findings to date on public satisfaction with Metrocast, whose franchise agreement with the Town of Wolfeboro expires next June. The Sept. 1 presentation was also a public hearing on the agreement as required by law.

The committee was appointed last year and sent a survey on Metrocast service out last November in Wolfeboro Municipal Electric customer statements. A total of 834 responses were received, and the results showed a high level of satisfaction with service, though there were requests for different programming.

The committee requested from selectmen and received authorization to issue a Request for Proposals to Metrocast to renew the franchise agreement and to negotiate the terms of a renewal agreement with Metrocast, subject to Board of Selectmen approval.

The key considerations for the committee, outlined by Saunders, included a response to the program requests made by survey participants, expansion of cable service to other areas of town, raising the franchise fee from three to five percent (in line with other towns), support for public access channel WCTV and its availability to all tiers of cable service, request for new equipment for WCTV, settling the term of the agreement (currently 10 years), securing free internet access to all town departments, and providing two-way fiber cable from the WCTV studios to the library and schools.

The main discussion by selectmen and the public concerned access to Metrocast cable. Webster stated strongly that all children now need internet access, a point Silk affirmed.

Silk said there are five town buildings that have to pay for internet access now that shouldn't have to. Town Manager Dave Owen explained that the current agreement did not require access for all departments but provided for two-way cable between all buildings so that internal access could be provided by the town. Since the town did not want to deal with an internal network, the two-way cable idea was abandoned and free access only to certain departments was accepted instead. Moira Campbell, Regional Manager for Metrocast, said that the town has 20 buildings, of which 16 have high-speed data connections. She asked for a list of locations in town where services is desired for Metrocast review: she said the minimum requirement is now a density of 20 homes per mile.

David and Susan Strauch of Browns Ridge Road said there was no Metrocast service in their part of Wolfeboro. The Strauchs both felt Metrocast should cover every home, not just those near the lakes. They also reported that they did not receive the survey since they get their electric service from the Co-op, not Wolfeboro Municipal Electric.

Murray said she has two homes without Metrocast service, that she requested service for them two years ago and still has no response.

Selectmen approved the committee proceeding as proposed and asked that surveys be sent to non-Municipal Electric customers like the Strauchs.

Other business

Following up on their decision to rescind recognition of the firefighters union, the board approved a compensation plan prepared by Owen to take effect on Oct. 1. The plan would bring firefighters in line with other town employees in terms of paying seven percent of health insurance cost, thus saving the town $23,511. Most of those savings ($21,166) would go toward increasing pay rates for firefighters to bring them in line with the Pay and Classification Study done in 2008.

Selectmen authorized Chairman Murray to send a letter supporting the Lake Wentworth and Crescent Lake Watershed Management Plan, for which the Lake Wentworth Association is requesting a $65,000 grant. The study would also be supported by $30,000 from the Lake Wentworth Foundation.

At the request of Selectmen Webster, the board deferred discussion of proposed revisions to the welfare guidelines until the Sept. 15 meeting.

Town Manager Owen reported that the Request for Proposals for Assessing Services has been revised. He said he looked closer at the idea of hiring an in-house assessor and gave his opinion that it would not be worth the $85,000 in pay and benefits since the person hired could not do all the work, leaving some work to be done by outside services.

Owen received board approval to spend $1,000 for a layout plan by Newport Cooperative Architects for temporary offices in the Bell Building. If voters approve a renovation plan for Brewster Hall next March, it will be necessary to relocate town staff in the building while the work is being done.

Owen also reported that ADA work on the Public Safety Building should be done in two weeks and that the Pop Whalen ADA improvements should be completed by Oct. 15.

Silk asked people to be polite about picking up dog poop in public places, saying she was concerned about people stepping in it at the Farmers' Market in Clark Park.

The board voted to send thank you letters to Bob Shiloh and Christopher Nyack for their work in the Lake Host program this summer, checking for milfoil on incoming boats. Murray reported that New England Milfoil will return to Back Bay on Sept. 14 to deal with areas of minor milfoil regrowth.

The next meeting of the Board of Selectmen will be on Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Wolfeboro Public Library meeting room.

Martin Lord & Osman
Martin Lord Osman
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