Digital sign changes could be limited to minute intervals
TOPSHAM — Planning Board members on Tuesday favored allowing digital signs in town to change no quicker than every minute, and restricting the signs to commercial areas.
Town Planner Rich Roedner will craft sign ordinance language and bring it to the board for review at a future meeting. Tuesday’s workshop followed those on digital signs held on Jan. 6 and Feb. 3, through which the board garnered input from the public.
Board member Stephen Mathieu said he did not want the signs to be multi-phased, saying that “I think that causes issues of people looking aside.”
While the board had previously discussed limiting sign changes to every 20 minutes, Mathieu said he favored a shorter interval, “something more than a quick change and multiple messaging.”
The state’s language on changeable signs requires that digital signs can change no more than once every 20 minutes, unless the municipality where the sign is placed passes an ordinance permitting a shorter interval. That interval can be as frequent as two seconds.
“I think it’s fine to let them flash a new message every five minutes, because it’s not going to be the same car that’s in front of it, and it’s got to change at some point; somebody’s going to be impacted by that change,” Mathieu said. “But not when it requires you to turn and gooseneck around to watch the rest of the message. I just don’t think that makes any sense on our busiest driving section in town, the highest traffic volumes.”
Board member Michael Colleran agreed that messages should be static and able to change more than every 20 minutes. He suggested that one minute was the most frequent change he could accept.
“I had a thought that a minute would be appropriate,” member Tim Dunham said. “I don’t think one minute or five minutes would make any difference, either way.”
Members agreed that a one-minute interval would be a good starting place for Roedner in crafting the language.
Concerning another area the ordinance will address, Mathieu maintained that the signs should be limited to commercial zones in Topsham.
The town has four commercial digital signs, along with a public information digital sign – at Harry C. Crooker & Sons Inc. on Route 196 – which displays only time and temperature.
Mike Foley of Five County Credit Union, which has one of the commercial signs, asked that in implementing sign language the town not “leave an open door for ambiguity,” should a new code enforcement officer with a different interpretation work in Topsham in the future.
Ted Crooker of Crooker & Sons said the time and temperature sign changes about every three seconds, and that he would like to keep it that way. His company also owns signs that it uses for road construction to let drivers know, for example, that a road is closed ahead, for how long, and what detour is available.
“We’d like to get that (information) to the person that’s working at BIW on one pass-through, not six pass-throughs,” Crooker said, adding that at times his signs will show three messages that a driver on Route 1 is able to see driving past at 55 mph.
“We need to figure out what that interval is, based on speed limits,” Roedner said.
Mathieu added that the ordinance will apply to on-premise advertising, and not to Crooker’s road work signs.
Board members discussed the color of signs – whether, for example, an unlit background should be required. Members agreed that the level of brightness should instead be regulated.
Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or [email protected]

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