By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Temporary signs are becoming more of a permanent problem for selectmen.
The board has decided to draft a policy to deal with the many requests they receive from organizations wanting to place temporary signs on town property.
The decision came after the board voted to deny — then approve — the Salem Farmers Market’s request Monday night to place signs in town rights-of-way. Selectmen concluded they needed a policy to clarify what should be allowed and avoid further problems.
“Right now, we are flying on the seat of our britches and we don’t know what we are doing,” Selectman Patrick Hargreaves said. “I agree we do need a policy.”
The board voted unanimously in July to allow farmers market coordinator Jane Lang to place temporary signs on town property every Friday last summer under the condition they were removed the following Sunday — the day of the market.
But Hargreaves said signs were not removed each Sunday, causing him and other selectmen to question if the organization should receive approval.
“I saw a sign pop up at the post office that didn’t come down,” Hargreaves said. “It stayed there.”
Lang said all temporary signs were removed by the deadline, but she believed other signs could remain for longer periods. But the board never granted approval for long-term signs.
Selectmen Stephen Campbell and Michael Lyons opposed the market’s request this week, saying it would set a bad precedent. They said they were afraid other organizations and businesses would expect to receive permission to erect signs on town property to advertise special events.
“I don’t think we should do this,” Lyons said. “I can’t find anything to grab on to to make me vote for this.”
Campbell said he, too, was reluctant to grant the request.
“To be perfectly honest, I’m not for reauthorizing it,” he said. “I think what we did last year — as well intended as it was — was a mistake. ... I just don’t see what makes them different.”
Selectman James Keller agreed a standard policy — not open to interpretation — is needed to be fair to all organizations.
“It gets really squishy really quickly,” he said “I don’t want to be squishy.”
Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr. said the town often receives requests to put temporary signs in rights-of-ways to advertise special events. Unless selectmen give approval, signs can only be erected on private property.
There are more problems during election season when candidates place their political signs in rights-of-way. Those signs are removed by the town.
“We have a problem in this town with clutter,” Campbell said. “One of the things people complain about is signs.”
Selectmen voted, 2-2-1, against allowing the market to place signs at four rights-of-way. Campbell and Lyons voted in opposition; Hargreaves abstained without giving a reason.
Hargreaves then made a motion to allow the market to put out signs through June while the board drafts its policy. That motion was approved, 3-2, with Hargreaves, McBride and Keller voting in favor and Campbell and Lyons opposed.
The signs would be allowed at Geremonty Drive and Main Street; Geremonty Drive and Veterans Memorial Parkway; near the Hess station on Route 28; and at the intersection of Millville, School and Lake streets.
The farmers market will run from June 9 through Oct. 20, Lang said. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lake Street Garden Center.