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Wolfeboro selectmen vote to extend sign moratorium again

Extension to Feb. 28 will give ample time to revise ordinance

THIS A-FRAME SIGN IS SAFE from code enforcement at least until Feb. 28, 2011, thanks to a 5-0 vote by Wolfeboro selectmen on Sept. 15 to extend the moratorium on such signs. (Thomas Beeler photo) (click for larger version)
September 23, 2010
WOLFEBORO — At their Sept. 15 meeting, Wolfeboro selectmen were presented with a petition from downtown business owners requesting that the moratorium on enforcement of the town's sign ordinance be extended from the original date of Oct. 31 to Feb. 28.

Selectmen had been expecting some formal request from the planning board, following public input from downtown merchants at that board's Sept. 7 meeting. At the end of that meeting, however, Planning Board Chair Kathy Barnard stated, "We don't have the authority to extend the moratorium. That goes to the selectmen."

Selectmen agreed to take comments from the audience on the issue, and first up was Michelle Fabricant, whose A-frame sign resulted in an enforcement action and ultimately led to the movement to revise the sign ordinance and impose a temporary freeze on enforcement. Commenting on Town Planner Rob Houseman's reviving the idea of a "wayfinder" kiosk and sign system, Fabricant said, "wayfinder signs will not replace A-frames." The portable folding signs allow businesses to promote themselves and special offers to passersby, she said, and without them it's difficult to draw traffic. She cited the number of businesses that came to Wolfeboro and did not make it. "It's all about creating a positive environment," she said.

Jerome Holden of JC Signs said he would like the moratorium extended to town voting in March 2011.

Paul Jenne of Flags Over Winnipesaukee addressed the concern expressed at the last selectmen's meeting that portable signs would hinder snow removal and pedestrian traffic in the winter. He said signs were out last winter and when it snowed, they were not put out until the sidewalks were cleared.

Cheryl Taylor of Rethreads said she has had her clothing consignment shop on Mill Street for 24 years. "Without signs, no one would know I am there." She added that the signs allowed by the ordinance are too small. "You need an A-frame."

Selectman Sarah Silk asked Houseman about the public hearing schedule on zooming changes. Houseman said that Jan. 18, 2011 is the last date for a public hearing on any zoning changes and Dec. 24 is the last date to hold a first public hearing. Warrant articles are normally posted on Nov. 1 and under state law you can't post proposed warrant articles any earlier than 120 days before the vote.

Houseman added that the planning board will work hard to get public input on proposed changes well in advance. When asked whether a proposed revision will take effect when posted, Houseman said that it would only if it were more restrictive than the current ordinance, which doesn't seem likely in this case. If the change is less restrictive, then the current ordinance remains in effect until the March vote.

Selectmen Chair Linda Murray said she reviewed the planning board hearing on the sign ordinance and the ordinance itself, which she said she found hard to read. She acknowledged that A-frame signs have been in town for years and said that sign enforcement has been inconsistent. Because she sits on the Economic Development Committee and has looked at why businesses leave town, she said she is "willing to give a little." She said she preferred to consider whether to extend until after the Sept. 28 meeting on signs being put on by the Chamber of Commerce and pointed out that the board of selectmen has two more meetings before the current Oct. 31 deadline.

Selectman Chuck Storm, selectmen's rep to the planning board, said he didn't feel the Sept. 28 meeting should hold up the board of selectmen on extending the moratorium.

Selectman Marge Webster stated flatly that "the board of selectmen should do everything in its power to help businesses" and that businesses should continue to fight on this issue. She extended the discussion by making a motion to extend the moratorium on enforcement for A-frame signs until Feb. 28. Storm seconded and the board voted 5-0 in favor.

The board held a separate discussion on code enforcement policy. See related story on page A1.

[Editor's Note: There will be an open meeting on the sign ordinance sponsored by the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce next Tuesday, Sept. 28, at the Wolfeboro Inn at 5:30 p.m.]

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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