FALMOUTH — Two months after the Town Council approved an ordinance allowing the display of temporary commercial signs, few businesses are apparently taking advantage of the new rule.

The ordinance, which received the council’s green light on May 30, allows businesses to display a temporary sign for up to one week, four times a year. Businesses must register their signs for a one-time fee of $25, and can display only a single sign at a time.

Developing the ordinance was one of the first undertakings by the Falmouth Economic Improvement Committee, a group of seven business owners appointed to advise the Town Council on economic growth.

After being established in 2010, FEIC began working with business leaders to understand their experiences with the town and its permitting processes.

“We interviewed over a dozen businesses in town, and the big glaring issue was the lack of temporary signs,” FEIC Chairman and former Town Councilor David Libby said. “In other words, the temporary signs you saw in town – with the exception of new business signs – were illegal.”

After conducting a follow-up survey and reviewing existing signage, FEIC made recommendations to the council for allowing temporary signs on a limited basis. Among the provisions:

• Free-standing, A-frame and wall signs are allowed, but signs with lights or moving parts are not.

• Signs can be erected on business property or street right-of-ways, but not closer than five feet from the edge of a roadway.

• The display area of a sign is limited to 16 square feet.

• And signs cannot be taller than 10 feet, or three feet if they are in a right-of-way.

The ordinance also includes a sunset clause, under which the law expires in December 2013 if not renewed by the council.

“The town has agreed to broaden the rules regarding temporary signage, but it’s not a free-for-all,” said Theo Holtwijk, director of long-range planning . “The feeling was, ‘let’s see how it works for the next year and a half.’

“The town tried to strike a balance between what tools do businesses need to be successful and creating an appearance for Falmouth that is representative of who we are.”

Libby said FEIC understands the need for temporary signs, which businesses often use to advertise sales and to simply attract attention.

“There are lot of businesses in town that are struggling right now, and if they can put up a temporary sign and drum up customers, they’re going to do it,” he said.

Besides allowing businesses to promote themselves with signs that previously were forbidden, the new law makes it easier for them to compete with businesses that have disregarded the ban. 

“(The previous signage law) created a situation in which some businesses felt they were limited, while a neighboring business might not care or might not be aware of the law,” Holtwijk said. “This made for an uneven playing field.”

Despite its potential benefits, the new ordinance so far seems hidden in the pages of the town’s municipal code.

While sign registration data isn’t available yet, “it’s not widely known that this opportunity has been created,” Holtwijk said. “My sense is that only a handful of businesses know about it.”

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

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