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6/18/2014 2:00:00 PM
Newcastle Residents Approve Sign Ordinance

By Tim Badgley

Newcastle voters adopted a new sign ordinance and approved a 10 percent increase in the municipal budget at annual town meeting June 16.

Moderator Don Means, far left, calls for a show of hands on the question to use keypad voting during the Newcastle annual town meeting June 16. Seated are Newcastle Board of Selectmen, left to right, Chris Doherty, Pat Hudson, and Ben Frey. (Tim Badgley photo)
Moderator Don Means, far left, calls for a show of hands on the question to use keypad voting during the Newcastle annual town meeting June 16. Seated are Newcastle Board of Selectmen, left to right, Chris Doherty, Pat Hudson, and Ben Frey. (Tim Badgley photo)
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Voters had rejected a proposed sign ordinance at the 2013 town meeting. Sign committee members and residents spoke in opposition to the ordinance at the time.

Newcastle Selectman Ben Frey provided voters with a slideshow presentation describing the details of the new sign ordinance and the process used to revamp it.

The new sign ordinance emerged over the course of five workshop meetings involving residents, the planning board, the design review committee, the land use committee, and several other town committees.

Frey said two of the major changes between the 2013 failed ordinance and the 2014 proposed ordinance are in the areas of illumination and grandfathering.

Frey said a distinction between directly lit signs and internally lit signs was eliminated.

Instead, the ordinance establishes a calculation method that measures the amount of light coming from any sign. The maximum level is set at less than half the amount of light allowed in some surrounding towns.

In the updated version of the sign ordinance, legal, nonconforming signs - signs that complied with the sign ordinance at the time of installation but do not conform to the new ordinance - would be grandfathered or allowed to stay in place.

Roger Hathaway asked about the motive behind the article.

Frey said the "land use ordinance as it currently stands is not unified, is scattered and disjointed."

According to Frey, embedded in the land use ordinance were sections that pertained to signs, but they were not all in one section.

"It is an enforcement nightmare," Frey said. "We can make it better. We want to make our ordinances as user-friendly as possible."

The ordinance passed, 44-9.

The budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year totals $1,515,932, an increase of $138,211.

The increase stems from a $60,000 line item to hire a land use consultant, last year's inadvertent omission of the downtown snowplowing contract, and increases in the roads budget.

Frey said the hiring of a land use consultant would aid in the creation of a new comprehensive plan and a new land use ordinance.

The new budget item for hiring a land use consultant is set at $60,000.

According to Frey, the existing land use ordinance is "disorganized and parts of it are 40 years old."

During the public discussion of the question, Jenny Mayher spoke in favor of the passing the article. "I think good planning is an investment in Newcastle," Mayher said.

Voters approved the articles that contained the four increased budget items.

The downtown snow contract will cost $38,363. A $15,000 reserve account for highway equipment expenses and a $15,000 increase in capital roads project expenses add to the overall increase.

Before the gavel came down to open the annual meeting, Town Manager Lynn Maloney addressed several corrections and omissions in the printed annual report.

The wrong dates appear on the front cover of the report. The report includes a summary of fiscal year 2013, the period between July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.

Maloney apologized to residents whose marriages were omitted from the town report. Heather Chapman and Edmee Dejean married March 29, 2013; and Nancy Adams and Cory Hanna married May 1, 2013.

"We really apologize for that not being in the book and we will put it in the book next year," Maloney said. "We'd like to congratulate them publicly." The comments received a round of applause from the crowd.

For the third year in a row, voters approved the use of remote electronic keypad voting devices to cast their votes. Voting results were projected instantaneously on a screen. At the highest point of voting, 55 voters were present.




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