Local ballot articles draw speakers to select board meeting
Camden — Several members of Camden Planning Board and the public made use of the public comment period at the beginning of the select board meeting Oct. 23 to voice support for two local ordinance issues set to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Planning board member Dick Householder said he wanted to clarify information being disseminated regarding Article 11 pertaining to business signs. He said businesses currently are allowed no more than three signs and that will not change. If a business decides to make use of a chalkboard-type sandwich sign, another sign has to go, according to Householder. He noted all changes to signs also must go through the planning board for approval. Householder also addressed Article 6, that, if approved by voters, will allow a one-time 30 percent expansion of non-conforming businesses within zones that are considered more residential in nature, with zoning board of appeals approval. He said implying there will be “rampant expansions” is “totally false.”
“Read [the proposed articles] and decide for yourself,” Householder said.
Resident Gian-Angelo Gallace said, “When you create a zoning plan, you need to stick to the zoning plan.”
He then confronted Selectman John French about his business — one of an estimated 11 businesses potentially impacted by Article 6 — and claimed French has not acted “in good faith.” Select Board Chairman Martin Cates directed Gallace to cease the “personal attack” on French. Gallace then continued to speak, switching to the topic of bonds on the state ballot, Question 4 in particular. He called the question “very deceptive” and said approval would send $10 million to the DCP Midstream LPG tank project in Searsport.
“I urge you to vote against it,” Gallace said.
Planning Board Vice-Chairman Lowrie Sargent followed and spoke about Article 6 as well. He said each of the businesses potentially impacted already were operating in 1992 when existing zoning was created and several have expressed concern they can't expand.
“In response, the planning board created these changes in nine districts,” Sargent said, adding the remaining six districts as well as properties falling within the shoreland zone will not change if Article 6 is approved. “Any expansion has to go before the planning board or zoning board of appeals. The ZBA must assure no changes to traffic, noise and dust.”
Sargent encouraged Camden voters to approve the article.
“I believe this is a good change,” he said.
Sargent went on to address Article 11 and said he used to operate a home-based business located far off the main road and struggled with the smaller signs currently allowed because of the 55 mph speed limit going by his home.
“Areas with higher speeds should be allowed more flexibility,” he said, adding a dwindling population in Camden could be boosted by creating “a healthier business environment.”
Downtown Business Group Chairman Oscar Verest spoke in favor of Article 11 and said he was speaking on behalf of the group, which “unanimously voted to support these changes.”
He said the town will have some influence regarding sign design.
“Come out and vote because it's important,” Verest said. “And vote for Article 11.”
Selectmen also weighed in on the topic following the public comment period. Selectman Leonard Lookner said he suspected the response supporting the two articles has stemmed from his vocal opposition in recent weeks.
“I just think it's wrong,” he said. “I will continue to urge people to vote against it.”
Lookner said he was “disappointed” by the use of the public comment period to endorse the local ballot issues.
“I don't think it's the right thing to do,” he said.
Conversely, Selectman Don White as well as Cates both spoke in favor of both articles.
“I'm convinced they're both good for Camden,” White said. “It will help [Camden] compete with neighboring communities to the north and south.”
Camden resident Bud Spaulding said Oct. 30 he is concerned Article 11 will allow much larger signs — up to 30-square-feet, the size of a billboard, he said — in residential areas of Camden.
"It's a real horror story," Spaulding said, adding he is concerned people are uninformed about the changes as they've not been publicly addressed by media.
The existing ordinance allows signs of up to 30-square-feet in the industrial zone only, according to information provided by the town. That portion of proposed ordinance changes — section 11 — addresses adding clarification by including zone letters and does not propose any size changes for signs, according to information provided by the town.
Cates noted misinformation is concerning for both sides and said he is in favor of the proposed changes.
“It doesn't mean a proliferation of signs,” Cates said. “We're still going to be Camden.”
In a memo to Town Manager Patricia Finnigan, Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson summarized the proposed changes to Article 11. According to Wilson's memo, increased sign size will be allowed in several areas. "Changeable signs" — also frequently referred to blackboard signs — will increase to 3-square-feet from the existing allowed 2-square-feet; home occupation businesses will be allowed within the Village and Village Extension districts to increase the size of signs from the existing 4 to 6-square-feet, as well as allowing a second, free-standing, up to 6-square-foot sign provided the speed limit is higher than 35 mph; and tradesman's shop located in the RU-2 (Rural 2) zone would be allowed two signs — “one free standing and one on-building sign with a combined area of 16-square-feet,” according to Wilson.
Cates said most of the proposed changes in both Articles 6 and 11 came about as a result of feedback.
“What they are proposing is not a game change or a character change,” he said. “Vote 'yes,' that's what I urge.”
The Camden Herald Associate Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.