FALMOUTH — A two-year battle over stone-wall signs has pitted town officials against Steve Woods, a business owner who is chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council and an independent candidate for U.S. Senate.

Falmouth town councilors chastised Woods in his absence Monday night and decided to fine him $2,500 because the two stone-wall signs that flank the entrance to TideSmart Global, at 380 Route 1, violate zoning regulations.

Councilor Bonny Rodden offered the harshest criticism, suggesting that Woods should have been more respectful of Falmouth’s planning process and zoning because he’s an experienced town official and a candidate for federal office.

“This is not an idiot,” Rodden said. “He doesn’t respect us, he doesn’t respect our rules and he doesn’t respect the business community.”

Rodden noted Woods’ absence from the meeting at Town Hall, of which he was notified. She described the stone-wall signs as beautiful but said she couldn’t let Woods “get away without paying for what he’s done.”

Councilor Chris Orestis called for a “big ol’ fine” that would “hurt” Woods and send a message to other businesses that zoning regulations must be applied fairly.

Council Chairwoman Faith Varney said the signs look “lovely, there’s no question. He just didn’t follow the rules.”

Contacted Tuesday, Woods said he was surprised by the council’s attack, calling it petty and punitive, but he indicated his willingness to pay the fine and work with Falmouth officials to resolve the matter.

“I respect the Falmouth Town Council. I disagree with their outcome,” Woods said. “This isn’t a toxic waste dump. I’ve invested nearly $5 million into this property over the last three years. This is a $30,000 stone wall with granite inserts. It’s the best-looking stone wall and commercial sign in two miles of Route 1.”

The walls’ pillars are 7 feet tall, exceeding the town’s 6-foot limit, and the lettering of “Global” is 4 inches tall, less than the 5-inch minimum set by zoning to reflect national safety standards, said Amanda Stearns, community development director.

Woods, who is running for Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat, said he didn’t attend Monday’s meeting because he expected the council to approve his request for a minor zoning amendment.

He said he may change the signs and intends to pay the fine, “though it doesn’t seem consistent with the town’s efforts to promote economic development.”

He noted that TideSmart, which includes six communications and marketing companies, employs 60 to 70 people and does business with many other companies in Falmouth.

The council directed Town Manager Nathan Poore to negotiate a consent agreement with Woods that would fulfill his request to amend the zoning ordinance to accommodate TideSmart’s stone-wall signs.

Councilor Tony Payne abstained from the discussion because TideSmart is a client of Payne’s employer, Clark Insurance.

Under the consent agreement, Woods would pay the town as much as $2,500 to cover the cost of an after-the-fact conditional-use permit and the 20 to 30 hours that municipal staff members spent working on the issue, town officials said Monday night.

The battle started in 2010, when Woods got a permit for the stone walls in March and had them built sometime before November, according to a town memo. The walls were built in a different location from what was specified in the permit and included granite sign inserts that weren’t indicated on the permit.

They also weren’t specifically addressed by Falmouth’s zoning, though similar signs had been built as landscape elements throughout town.

Town officials worked for several months to draft zoning regulations for “property identification signs” and allowed Woods to review them before the council approved the regulations in January 2011.

At the time, Woods said the proposed rules were acceptable, according to the town memo.

When Woods applied for an after-the-fact permit in February 2011, town officials noticed that the dimensions of his stone-wall signs violate the new regulations. The Planning Board tabled his application in April 2011. Woods sought an amendment to bring his signs into compliance in November.

No councilor was willing to introduce the amendment until Teresa Pierce, hoping to resolve the issue, did this month.

“I want to be in compliance,” Woods said Tuesday. “To me, it’s not worth fighting over.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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