January 17, 2013

Skowhegan seeks to limit number, size of roadside signs

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN -- Signs celebrating the high school's state championship field hockey team, the county's maple syrup and the world's best ice cream are displayed coming into town from U.S. Route 2 and U.S. Route 201.

click image to enlarge

Signs celebrating Skowhegan successes have been in place for about four years. Selectmen want to adopt a policy controlling the size, location and number of signs placed along the roadside.

Staff photo by Doug Harlow

The signs, in a small park by the riverside, have been there for the past three or four years.

However, when Town Manager John Doucette Jr. allowed a new sign marking the 25th anniversary of Stan's French Fries at the Skowhegan State Fair this past summer, there were objections.

"It's not so much that they didn't like that sign, but they wanted to make it equal for everybody," Doucette said. "It wasn't just, 'OK, we can put Stan's sign up, but how about this other person?' What determines what goes up there?"

Selectmen discussed the Stan's French Fries sign during their Aug. 14 meeting, which took place during the 10-day state fair. Doucette noted that owner, Skowhegan native Stan McGray, has done a lot for the town through donations and fundraisers.

His sign was to come down when the fair closed, but it remained up for another month.

Selectmen now want to adopt a policy limiting the number, size and placement of the signs.

Doucette said the board's chairwoman, Joy Mase, and her partner, John Lewis, at Greatest Scapes landscaping company, have agreed to design five small billboards for the site.

The signs will be 3 feet by 5 feet and will not display telephone numbers or advertising, just the name and the accomplishment.

"The big concern is they don't want to take away from the view, because you can see the river from there," Doucette said. "The other thing is the safety aspect. They don't want to make them so big that people can't see."

There will be one space for a sign to acknowledge specific accomplishments, such as the high school field hockey team and three spaces to express specific milestones, such as Stan's French Fries. The final slot would acknowledge certain awards, such as Gifford's Ice Cream named tops in the world for its vanilla and chocolate flavors by the World Dairy Expo.

Doucette said the maple syrup sign was placed during the tenure of his predecessor, Philip Tarr. Skowhegan is the county seat of Somerset County, which produces more maple syrup than any other U.S. county.

Each sign would be up for one year, and the sponsor would have to submit an application to selectmen for reinstatement. All signs will have to be professionally produced; no homemade signs allowed. He said a state law banning most billboards doesn't apply to the signs because they are within Skowhegan's urban compact zone.

Selectmen are still discussing the policy's details. Doucette said the written policy will be finished by this summer.

Doug Harlow -- 612-2367


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