SALEM — Temporary signs have become a hot topic as the town struggles to regulate them and they continue to appear illegally along roadsides.
As town officials fine tune a proposed sign amendment they will present to voters in March, the signs keep popping up.
Meanwhile, some residents are speaking out against the proposal and one is even circulating a citizens petition that's contrary to local law.
Temporary signs have been a controversial issue in town for the last few years, prompting selectmen to voice their concern about them being placed in public rights of way distracting motorists on heavily traveled roads such as Route 28. Officials have been especially concerned about signs placed at busy intersections.
The signs are most often a problem in the summer and fall, when local organizations post many throughout town to advertise festivals and fairs.
But more than a half dozen signs and stakes were recently planted illegally in snowbanks on Route 28, according to Selectman Patrick Hargreaves. He said the signs advertising the Rockingham Hunting and Fishing Expo this weekend were placed all along the roadway.
"They're in the right of way," Hargreaves said.
The town has contacted Rockingham Park officials, and president and general manager Edward Callahan said yesterday expo organizers would remove them by day's end.
"They should be out there this evening and hopefully they will be done taking them down," Callahan said.
Hargreaves said he's frustrated that people continue to put signs where they are forbidden.
"They flood the area before the event," Hargreaves said yesterday. "By the time we send a letter saying they better move it, the event is over."
Hargreaves said the town needs be more aggressive in its enforcement of the sign ordinance. He said the proposed zoning amendment would help do that if it's approved by voters in March.
"We need to start somewhere and get moving on it," he said.
One concern is that some organizations will continue to place signs illegally if other groups are seen doing it.
That frustrates SalemFest organizer Betty Gay. She said the town prohibits her group from posting signs for the annual festival, but does nothing to control those put out by other organizations.
Gay was frustrated in September when selectmen voted not to allow SalemFest organizers to post several dozen signs in rights of way just as they had for years without any opposition. A new ordinance adopted by selectmen only allows signs to be placed on private property at a cost of $10 per sign.
In October, selectmen denied Salem Farmers Market organizer Jane Lang permission to post signs at six locations around town. The board ignored pleas from 11 market supporters. The rejection was prompted in part by market organizers' failure to remove temporary signs for the market in 2012.
Both Lang and Gay have questioned the proposed regulations. They were among five residents to voice their concerns at a public hearing Dec. 30, according to town planner Ross Moldoff. A final hearing on the issue and several other proposed zoning amendments is scheduled for Jan. 21.
The proposed ordinance, modified slightly last week, gives organizations up to 48 hours to remove temporary signs after an event and allows signs for up to three special events per year.
The ordinance also establishes particular size requirements, eliminates the need for a permit, and prohibits temporary signs from being illuminated. No more than two signs can be placed on a single property, and permission is required from the owner.
But Town Manager Keith Hickey said this week he's concerned about a proposed citizens petition being circulated by Gay that would allow signs to be placed on town property in defiance of local law. The town's legal counsel has concluded the citizens petition would be nonbinding if passed by voters.
"It's a concern because it will be confusing for people," he said. "The petition is going against the town ordinance."