Cumberland officials are exploring whether to allow signs like this one, outside the Mabel I. Wilson elementary school on Tuttle Road, to be replaced by internally-lit electronic signs. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND — Two years after narrowly rejecting a proposal that would have allowed illuminated outdoor signs in the center of town, the town is revisiting a pared-down version of the concept.

The Planning Board will consider amending the town’s zoning on behest of the council to allow for LED-illuminated signs for a trial period.

LED signs could be allowed for up to a year along a 0.3 stretch from the Congregational Church in Cumberland, located at the corner of Tuttle Road and Main Street, down Tuttle Road to the Greely Middle School entrance.

During the trial period, LED signs would only be allowed outside municipal, school, church and nonprofit properties, according to Town Manager Bill Shane. That would include the Greely Middle and Mabel I. Wilson schools, the town fire station, the church, and the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust.

A visual from 2017 shows the sign the Congregational Church in Cumberland had at the time, at left, versus the type of internally illuminated sign it sought. File

The trial would determine how the signs “can be effectively used, and if they can be used in a way that is maybe less offensive than some of the more commercial-like LED signs,” Shane told the council on Sept. 9.

Businesses would not be included in the trial.

Councilor Mike Edes suggested that if the trial proves successful, businesses should be added to the list of entities allowed to install the signs.

No one from the public spoke on the matter during the sparsely attended meeting.

The Planning Board is due in the next two months to review past proposed LED sign rules – such as having black backgrounds and white letters – and consider new language, and could deliver a recommended course of action in time for the Town Council’s Dec. 9 meeting. The council would make the final decision on the matter.

The council in April 2017 voted 4-3 against an ordinance change that would have allowed the internally-lit signs in the Town Center District, which covers Main Street from the congregational church to Atlantic Credit Union, just beyond Farwell Avenue. Such signs are prohibited everywhere in town, except those grandfathered on properties like Greely High School, where the use predates the sign ordinance.

A request from the congregational church to place an LED sign on its 282 Main St. property had prompted the town to revisit the matter.

The School Administrative District 51 parent-teacher organization had also mentioned purchasing an LED sign for the Wilson school at 353 Tuttle Road. Although the church has since erected a new sign, the PTO has maintained interest in installing an LED sign outside the Wilson school, Shane said.

SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter on Tuesday called LED signs “a good way of getting communication out in real time,” particularly for the parents driving by or dropping off or picking up their children.

“What we find is that (current) sign either doesn’t have anything on it, or everything’s outdated,” he added, noting the challenge particularly in the winter to get out there to manually change it. A digital sign could be updated remotely from indoors.

Were SAD 51 to install a sign on Tuttle Road, it would service both the elementary and middle schools, Porter said.

“They believe strongly that the information provided by the (Greely High sign has) been a huge community service, (with) which I would tend to agree,” Shane said.

The church would consider an LED sign, but that would require it to start another fundraising effort, the manager noted. The church is campaigning to fund almost $250,000 in repairs to its sanctuary ceiling.

“By doing this in a selective overlay zone … we can get the feedback, see what people think about it, and then determine if it’s worth expanding to maybe the commercial zones in the future,” Shane said. Those zones are located along Routes 1 and 100.

The sign rules proposed in 2017 called for new LED signs to, in part, be no more than 42-by-72-inches; operate only from 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; adhere to a specific number of illumination units (10,000 nits); change only once every 20 minutes, and be black and white only.

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