The establishment of three sign districts.

A comprehensive sign and landscape design for each of Bethel’s gateways.

Information plazas.

A set of maps that will provide consistent information for marketing the area.

Such steps are among the preliminary recommendations supported by the Committee for Sign Ordinance Reform to improve signage and generally provide better information for visitors to Bethel.

The committee was formed this summer as the result of ongoing complaints about the town’s current, 16-year-old sign ordinance, especially that its provisions on directional, or wayfaring, signs are overly restrictive and not flexible enough to allow businesses to effectively attract customers.

Selectmen had originally hoped to have directional sign reforms ready to go to voters at a special town meeting this month, but Town Manager Jim Doar said Tuesday it is now more likely consideration will wait until next year, when other aspects of sign ordinance reform are scheduled for a vote at the annual town meeting.

At Monday’s meeting of the Bethel Board of Selectmen, Sign Committee Chairman Paul LeGault presented information recently compiled by committee consultant David Raphael. The report is entitled “Preliminary Observations, Analysis & Recommendations for Sign Ordinance Reform, Wayfinding & Visitor Information and Community Branding.”

LeGault outlined a variety of possible revisions to the sign ordinance, including the establishment of four basic sections (general standards applicable to all signs; specific sign stands applicable to distinct sign types; district sign standards, with type, number and size of signs according to district; and off-premise directional and information signs).

Suggested sign districts are highway (for Routes 2 and 26); village; and “everywhere else,” he said.

Other recommendations include redrafting and revising the section on roadside directional signs for businesses; designing standards and guidelines and developing them in graphic formats for easier understanding; and reviewing and refining special signs (with possible limits on temporary, real estate and the number of free-standing signs per business, as well as addressing the length and nature of grandfathering for pre-existing signs).

The report also looks at the bigger picture for providing information to visitors, suggesting a more consistent approach.

It recommends a new visual image (part of a “branding” concept) and graphic standard for the town, which would be applied “across a range of elements and products.”

A comprehensive sign and landscape design is suggested for approaches to the town on Routes 2, 26 and the Sunday River Road: “The Bethel landscape is memorable and includes iconic landscapes – these key elements have formed the basis for Bethel’s brand. The visual and community landscape of Bethel begins at the town boundaries.”

Also suggested are informational plazas “at areas and elements that attract visitors, including centrally located amenities and a range of information options.” Better identification of municipal parking locations from which visitors can walk to village attractions is recommended.

Effective maps are also important, the report said. “Developing a more comprehensive, easier to read set of maps to be used in pamphlets, marketing media, online and in kiosks will be an important step in improving visitor information resources.”

The 16-page report concludes by listing “key takeaways” from a public forum held last month to gather input on sign reform, many of which were incorporated in the recommendations.

The complete report can be found on the town website at www.bethelmaine.org.

LeGault said another public forum on the signs issue will likely be scheduled for late November or early December.

The sign committee meets next on Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the Town Office meeting room.

Tax correction

In other business Monday, selectmen learned that due to a calculation error by the town assessor, property taxes were undercommitted by $123,058. Doar said that taking no action would result in the de facto use of money from the fund balance to make up the difference. He recommended no action, and the board agreed.

Selectmen also voted to close Mason Street on Halloween between 6 and 8:30 p.m., from Broad Street to Crescent Lane, for Trick-or-Treaters.


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