Gorham businesses have a better understanding of what signs they can and can’t use after the Town Council last week finalized a new sign ordinance that specifies regulations for village, roadside, residential and industrially zoned areas.

The ordinance, which town councilors said will help eliminate confusion on what is and isn’t allowed when a business installs a sign, ends nearly 15 years of off-and-on discussion between the Planning Board and the Town Council.

The new ordinance prohibits signs with rotating pieces or moving parts, neon signs, inflatable signs and displays, awning signs as well as canopy signs.

The total sign area can be up to 72 square feet and increased to 108 square feet with Planning Board approval.

“I like it because it’s a lot clearer now,” said Patricia Moulton, co-owner of The Dance Studio on 6 School St. “When a new business comes in, there is a lot less guessing.”

Businesses that already use prohibited signs are grandfathered and would not need to adhere to the ordinance unless they are replacing an existing sign. Jan Mee II, a Chinese restaurant at 14 School St., currently has a large yellow sign with red lettering. It is also uses neon illuminated signs. Under the new ordinance, it wouldn’t be allowed to use those signs if changes or repairs need to be made.

The new ordinance also elminated the sunset provision, which previously stated that all businesses would need to conform to the sign standards by 2010.

“You don’t want to force anybody to take their sign down,” said Town Councilor Shonn Moulton. “Technically, Jan Mee for example, has their sign up and they had a permit for it. It wouldn’t be fair to have them remove their current sign.”

For Richard Jing, owner of Ocean Garden Restaurant on 390 Main St., keeping his sign is invaluable, he said.

“A businesses sign is one of the most important parts of a business,” he said. “It’ really expensive if you have to change your sign.”

Michel Salvaggio, who is co-owner of the Treehouse Cafe on 29 School St., says businesses that are grandfathered puts his deli at a disadvantage because the shop, which opened in March, does not fall under the grandfather clause.

“I don’t mind the ordinance, but I can’t illuminate signs in my building, so how am I suppose to compete against everyone else in this town who is grandfathered in?” Salvaggio said. “It is a great idea as long as it applies to everybody.”

Gorham Town Councilor Phil Csoros, who voted in favor of the sign ordinance during the Aug. 5 Town Council meeting, said another goal of the ordinance is to keep the Gorham feeling like a village.

“We don’t want to feel like a big city,” Csoros said. “The new sign ordinance is achieving a more uniform code for signs so that we don’t have such a disparity in the size, the lighting and the general makeup of the signs. This will kind of make the signs in the village comply with our goal in the appearance and standards of the town.”

Town Council Chairman Burleigh Loveitt said during the meeting that the new ordinance is in the town’s best interest because it won’t allow chain businesses such as McDonald’s to “ruin” the town’s atmosphere with its emblematic Golden Arches.

“We want to keep Gorham looking like a town and not the Bronx,” Loveitt said during the council meeting.

Carson Lynch, owner of the Gorham Grind on 18 South St., originally argued against the ordinance because he said he didn’t agree with the square footage clause, which was changed in the final ordinance, that would have made signs “too small.”

He said he now approves of the new ordinance.

“I was originally one of the most vocal opponents of the original drafts that I read,” he said. “I have been incredibly impressed with how the Planning Board had been receptive to our concerns.”

Lynch said he doesn’t know if the new ordinance will ultimately create the “village” atmosphere the town seeks, but he also doesn’t see how it would hurt.

“I’m not convinced that this is the answer because there is a big disparity between Burger King and the Gorham Grind,” he said. “If you’re looking at something along the lines of Freeport Village, then we’ve got a long way to go because up there they are much more restrictive. It’s a step in the right direction, however, and I think it needed to happen.”

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