Maine bill would ease rural roadsign restrictions

Jack Loftus/Bangor Daily News

A billboard on Main Street in Bangor was torn down in 1984 by Maine Department of Transportation workers. Maine billboard owners had until Jan. 1 of that year to tear down any remaining signs along roadways or have the state remove them and charge for its services. In 1979 Maine approved highway beautification legislation that began a phase-out of more than 2,000 billboards.

AUGUSTA — A Belgrade lawmaker is reintroducing legislation that mobilized opposition from the tourism industry and scenic beauty advocates two years ago. The bill would allow businesses more leeway to place roadside signs on their property to entice drivers to stop at their establishments.

Republican Rep. Dennis Keschl says his bill, LD 483, is an attempt to offer small businesses in rural areas an advantage their counterparts in Maine’s cities enjoy: the ability to place on their property attention-grabbing signs that offer valuable advertising. Most of Maine’s rural towns abide by the state’s restrictions on roadside signs for businesses, he said, while many of the state’s larger towns and cities have more permissive rules on the books locally.

“It’s a small business bill,” Keschl said. “The only reason for this is to provide for economic growth in rural areas so small businesses can have a better opportunity to compete.”

But the bill is already mobilizing some of the same advocates who opposed similar legislation from Keschl two years ago. Emily Fuller Hawkins of Deer Isle, who testified against the 2011 legislation, said this year’s bill is the first step toward reversing Maine’s decades-old ban on highway billboards.

“The national billboard companies are looking for a way to open the door to undermining everything,” she said. “It completely reverses the current policy of the state of Maine. That’s their way to have a door opener to come into Maine and then say, ‘OK, you’ve reversed your policy about how you think about signage.’”

While serving the Legislature in the 1960s and 1970s, Hawkins’ mother, Marion Fuller Brown, sponsored Maine’s law that bans off-premises billboards from state highways. Brown, who died in 2011, was a founder of the national organization Scenic America. Maine is one of four states that don’t allow roadside billboards, according to the organization.

Keschl said his bill has nothing to do with billboards. “There’s strong sentiment in the state, and rightfully so, against billboards,” he said. “I think they’re intrusive in terms of the aesthetic on highways.”

The legislation, instead, targets Maine’s rules for so-called “on-premises” signs, which are located on businesses’ property.

It would allow businesses’ freestanding signs to reach a height of 35 feet, up from the current 25-foot height restriction; it would let businesses place advertising signs farther away from their principal building — 1,500 feet, up from the current 1,000 feet; and it would allow businesses to place three signs on their property, up from the current two, if they’re located more than 1,000 feet from a roadway.

In addition, the legislation would allow changeable signs — digital signs with messages that change periodically — to be visible from the state’s interstate highways, which is currently prohibited. The law would allow those signs to change their message once a minute, up from the current rule of once every 20 minutes.

If the bill passes, Keschl said, towns and cities wouldn’t have to use the same rules. They could pass ordinances that are more or less permissive, he said.

“I just think it’s unfair that people in the rural communities in this state are at a disadvantage when it comes to putting advertising signs out on your business property,” Keschl said.

But any move that weakens Maine’s rules against roadside signs is a step toward visually polluted roadsides, said Hawkins.

“One of the greatest assets the state of Maine has, when [visitors] come into the state of Maine, they don’t see any billboards from the interstates,” she said. “That is so impressive.”

Plus, Hawkins said, Maine businesses already have an alternative for advertising on state highways through the state’s Official Business Directional Sign program, run by the Maine Department of Transportation.

A transportation department official couldn’t be reached for comment on Keschl’s bill Monday, though the agency didn’t take a position on his bill in 2011.

Keschl’s bill two years ago attracted the support of a handful of Maine sign manufacturers and a representative of the International Sign Association, who touted the benefits of advertising using roadside signs.

Opponents included representatives from the Maine Restaurant Association, the Maine Tourism Association and the Maine Innkeepers Association, who said they worried about how more roadside signs would affect the state’s natural beauty, which attracts tourists to Maine.

The Legislature’s Transportation Committee, which will hold a hearing on the bill March 8, killed the bill unanimously in 2011.

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Paul Lessard's picture

On-premises signs aren't billboards

When will you anti-sign people stop demonizing businesses about their 1st Amendment right to place a sign on their own property?

Your entire story misses the point completely. LD 483 has nothing to do with off-premises advertising. So why are you stirring things up about that issue - just to sell newspapers? The scare tactics you employ are raising the usual red flags that has the usual suspect saying that this bill will inevitably lead the end of the world. People who know nothing about the subject first hand decide signs are terrible and shout their ignorance about the topic to the rafters. The uninformed mob is now foaming at the mouth because of your reporting which then rules the day because our elected officials, who themselves are always concerned about being re-elected, turn into politicians that vote the way the crowd wants instead of being statesmen and analyzing the merits of the bill.

Federal laws do not regulate on-premises signs because the feds understand the rights of the property owner to display messaging that identifies the goods and services that are available on those premises. The sign regulations are left where it belongs to the local jurisdiction - the municipality. Your constant comparison to billboards is completely false and misleading. Nowhere does the bill deal with billboards. No changes are made to that section of the law. No signs will be made larger. No signs will be allowed to be placed off-premises. So what is the point of interviewing the anti-sign folks who can only talk about how relaxing any sign law will lead to more billboards. That is a crazy lie.

It's time to return balance and common sense to the marketplace by correcting areas of the law that have unnecessarily caused problems to small businesses. Never has a real debate about the facts of issue such as business potential, legibility and safety ever been raised. It's only the crazy emotional arguments put forth by the people who hate signs that is reported. These people have made no investment in the business and they get to be the ones to decide the issue because they hate signs and that sells papers. When will you get it into your heads that this bill has nothing to do with billboards?

It's about fairness to the businesses whose owners probably have everything they own placed at risk against the success or failure of their business. Small businesses are the victims here because they don't dare step up to speak their minds because they are afraid of negative reporting that will appear in the paper. They don't want their personal opinion to damage their income potential as a result of that. Public opinion is influenced unfairly by the people you choose to emphasize with your interviews and the editorial tone of your reporting. Then the politicians, who always keep their public image in mind, run away from what they falsely perceive to be a controversial topic. Small businesses are thus not given fair representation by these politicians because of your reporting.

Kim Waite's picture


So fairness to you is having 50 foot road signs advertising every business in the state and all the religious groups too? Uh ha. If you want to live with huge billboards mucking up the view, move SOUTH!

Paul Lessard's picture

Where did this come from? How

Where did this come from? How could you possibly have interpreted huge billboards and 50 foot signs from what I wrote? It's useless to try to have a discussion based on facts when reason is not applied. My point has been made by your comment.

Kim Waite's picture

I detest the

very large religious billboard ('Jesus is lord') on the side of Lisbon St in Lewiston! I would love to see it taken down, but of course, the right wingers would freak out. Whenever I see that billboard, I think the South has taken us over!

Having billboards of any kind makes a city or town look cheesy. Billboards along our highways would have the same effect. Shame on the republicans for wanting to go backwards once again!

Kim Waite's picture

I detest the

very large religious billboard ('Jesus is lord') on the side of Lisbon St in Lewiston! I would love to see it taken down, but of course, the right wingers would freak out. Whenever I see that billboard, I think the South has taken us over!

Having billboards of any kind makes a city or town look cheesy. Billboards along our highways would have the same effect. Shame on the republicans for wanting to go backwards once again!

Steve  Dosh's picture

Maine bill aims at changing roadside sign restrictions

Matt , 13.02.25 17:17 hst ?
.. umm ME, VT and HI are the only states that outlaw billboards. Why not keep it that way ? We live in - b e a u t i f u l - states where one can actually see the scenery w/o having to look beyond the ads • Per your picture , it doesn't stop people from trying to post them on telephone company owned telephone poles " Lost Dog , " etc . . unsightly . We have a state wide leash law in HI . People eat dog here . Our fortune cookies read, " What you just ate was not chicken." It's a joke. Just a joke
/s , Dr. Dosh and ohana HI


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