The Waldoboro Board of Selectmen voted June 10 to relax the town’s sign ordinance in an effort to keep a planned commercial project in town, according to town officials.
Craig Cooley, who was chair of the board at the time of the vote, said the vote came after the recommendation by Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs to help keep a planned Family Dollar store coming to Waldoboro.
At issue was a roughly 74-square-foot sign planned for the store’s facade, which would have exceeded the 32-square-foot size limit in the sign section of the town’s Land Use Ordinance, according to Briggs.
“She was adamant that she did not want to lose out on the dollar store coming to Waldoboro, and recommended that that’s the way we do it,” Cooley said.
Bryn Winburn, the public and media relations manager for Family Dollar, indicated the project was never at risk.
“After speaking with our real estate team, I understand there was never a discussion to relocate the store,” Winburn said in an email June 17. “We’re excited to open this new store in Waldoboro and give our neighbors in the area a great reason to shop with us for the things they need and use every day.”
Discussion on the issue was held in executive session at the board’s June 10 meeting.
After coming back into open session, Selectman Vice-Chair Ronald Miller said, “I make a motion that we relax the sign ordinance to make it so Family Dollar can comply with the ordinance and also make a recommendation to the planning board that they update the ordinance to today’s standards in the near future.”
“It was unanimous,” Cooley said of the vote on Miller’s motion. “The board was willing to relax the ordinance. In other words, nobody on the board wanted to jeopardize them [Family Dollar] not coming to town.”
The board’s vote is not the first occasion in recent times for an ordinance in Waldoboro to be pushed aside.
Then-Town Manager John Spear suspended conservation requirements in the town’s shellfish ordinance last summer after the requirements were found to be in violation of federal labor standards. The ordinance was later amended.
Briggs described approval of Family Dollar’s sign as “business as usual.”
“The sign that had been permitted is consistent with what is already displayed on Route 1,” Briggs said. “Each and every one of those signs that were put up after the ordinance was passed in ’05 has been in violation of the ordinance. No action has been taken against any of those other business.”
According to Briggs, Assistant Code Enforcement Officer Stanley Waltz issued the permit for the oversized-sign on May 16.
Waltz did not return a call for comment by press time.
Briggs pointed to a sign for the new CarQuest Auto Parts location on Route 1, which she said is roughly 70-square-feet and was given a permit a few months before she started working with the town.
“Family Dollar is very well aware of [the CarQuest sign], and is using that as an example as why they’re looking for this sign,” Briggs said. “What’s fair for one is fair for the other, and yet, it’s in violation. I recognize that.”
“I’m not saying it’s right, but I’m also trying to be realistic,” she said.
Briggs said the sign requirements in the ordinance are “probably not consistent with highway commercial property. It certainly makes sense when you’re in the downtown historical areas, but when you’re on highway commercial, it’s already not consistent with what exists.”
“I brought it to the selectboard because I recognized it was not consistent with the ordinance,” she said. “They agreed that they wouldn’t pursue the violation.”
“When there’s a violation and it’s brought to them, they have two choices. They can enforce it by going to court, or not,” Briggs said. “The bottom line is there’s a whole lot of ordinance violations that go unenforced, but given that I don’t want to bring private citizens into the press, I’m not going to.”
“Does Family Dollar want to come into a town with animosity? Probably not. Are they threatening not to come in? Not as of yet,” Briggs said. “If they’re not welcome here, they’ll go elsewhere. That’s business, and we have to ask where we want to be in that realm. Do we want to be just the passage between Damariscotta and Rockland?”