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Joyce Endee

Controversial sign ordinance amendment moves forward

January 19, 2011
MOULTONBORO — A zoning amendment allowing for rental and lease signs on property without a sign permit will go forward in the hearing process despite controversy.

The Planning Board voted to pass the amendment forward during a public hearing on the zoning ordinances held on Thursday.

According to the current sign ordinance, real estate signs advertising the sale of the property on which they are located are exempt from sign permitting. The signs must be less than three by four feet and limited to two signs per lot.

Real estate sale signs are covered under this part of the ordinance, but signs for rental or lease property or advertising foreclosure auctions require a sign permit.

A concern was brought to the board regarding potentially unpermitted rental signs. After discussion, the matter was brought to the town attorney who said all real estate signs must be treated equally.

"Prior to that I don't think that anyone realized rental and lease signs were not allowed," said acting Chair Natt King.

An amendment was proposed to allow such signs to be exempt from permitting. The amendment also proposed a change in sign size requirements for a maximum size of three by four feet in Commercial Zones A and B and no larger than one foot by one and a half feet in Commercial Zone C and the Residential District.

The proposed amendment has been met with concern by some residents that allowing rental and lease signs without a permit will lead to a proliferation of signs around the community.

Resident Jim Leiterman read a letter from former Planning Board member Eric Taussig vehemently opposing the amendment. Taussig said in the letter that the amendment's passage could not only lead to a proliferation but could also be a "red flag" that a building is unoccupied and possibly make it a target for vandalism and break-ins. Taussig said there is no need for the signs, saying most people renting property in Moultonboro are from out of state and can find properties on the Internet and through other means of communication besides looking for signs.

Resident Nancy Wright also expressed concern about the town being overrun with rental signs. Wright echoed Taussig's point that many people renting property in Moultonboro usually do not drive out to look at signs and can even look at properties through websites with enhanced photos and 360 degree views.

Jim Mardis, a broker with Century 21 Realty, said many people will call in response to signage and clients that do not want to look at properties online.

Resident Joe Querisma said there are some communities in Florida that have so many signs that houses are not even visible.

Resident Mel Borrin disagreed that the amendment would bring that many signs.

"What is being proposed here would limit that coming into our area," Borrin said.

Borrin said there are already other indicators that a structure is unoccupied, such as an unplowed driveway in the winter and other indicators.

The proposed amendment was also criticized by some local people in the real estate industry, saying signs that are one by one and a half feet are not industry standard and having signs sized just to fit within Moultonboro would be inconvenient.

Resident Tom Howard said he spoke with three brokers in Center Harbor and Moultonboro who said the smallest signs tend to be 18 by 24 inches to two by three feet. Borrin said the general rule for signs is a maximum of four by four feet.

"I think the real estate community has done a pretty good job of patrolling and controlling what's out there," Mardis said.

Mardis said his signs are usually 18 by 24 inches and he only uses three by four-foot signs when selling larger properties.

"Brokers don't want to go out and spend lots of money on three by four or four by four signs," Mardis said.

Wright said she has been involved in real estate for over 20 years and was mostly familiar with two by three-foot signs. Wright said signs three by four feet are pretty large for the area.

Board members discussed possibly delaying the amendment for a year when more time has been given to review it, especially as the concern only came up recently.

Selectman's representative Ed Charest said further delaying any decisions could create some problems.

Charest said proliferation might be a problem if 1,000 houses were for rent in town, but "that's not going to happen."

"If a person wants to sell their home of if they want to rent it for a season they have that right," Charest said. "Once it was brought to our attention, the genie's out of the box."

"I can see the argument on both sides of this," said Board member Peter Jensen. "I just think we ought to give a little more consideration than we have so far."

Board of Selectmen Chair Joel Mudgett said he thinks the ordinance does need to be fixed.

"I don't think we're going to see that many new signs in the neighborhood," Mudgett said.

After extensive discussion, board members came to a general consensus that, as sales, rentals, and other transactions are all considered real estate; the original wording of that section of the ordinance could be kept with some changes. The changes included striking out language specifically related to For Sale property so the wording would fit all types of real estate.

The board unanimously approved the proposed amendment.

The hearing was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but the snowstorm resulted in the closure of town hall and cancellation of all meetings. King said the board was advised by the town attorney that it was legal to hold the meeting the next day with as much notice as possible. Several residents challenged that decision, saying a hearing needed at least 24 hours notice and questioned the legality of Thursday's hearing.

A second hearing was initially scheduled for Feb. 1, the last day to make any changes to amendments before they have to be turned in. After discussions, another hearing was scheduled for Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. in the Land Use office.

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