Zoning Task Force fine tunning regulation of electronic signs

LACONIA — After meeting on Monday, the Zoning Task Force will recommend an amendment to the zoning ordinance regulating electronic signage to the Planning Board when it meets next week.

The task force proposes distinguishing between two types of "electronic message center" (EMC) — "static" and "dynamic." Static electronic signs are those on which neither the copy nor pictures change during the message while their dynamic counterparts appear to move or change as they present a stream of images or words that fly in, fade out, rotate and scroll across the face of the sign.

Neither type of electronic sign would be permitted in the six residential districts. Where they are permitted the dimensions and heights of signs must conform to those of freestanding signs in the specific district.

The task force recommends that so-called EMC-dynamic display signs be confined to the commercial resort district, which includes The Weirs, and permitted there only by special exception. Joe Driscoll, an attorney and member of the task force whose family owns and operates an inn and cottages at The Weirs, said as that these signs have increased in number in the absence of regulation during the past decade residents and businesses have asked for tighter regulation.

"They don't want Las Vegas in Laconia," remarked Larry Guild, who serves on both the task force and the Planning Board.

EMC-static display signs would be excluded from the downtown riverfront district but permitted in the commercial resort district and permitted by special exception in the professional, business central, business central/industrial. commercial, industrial park, industrial and airport industrial districts.

After some discussion the task force agreed to recommend that the display, whether images or words, on EMC-static display signs not change more frequently than every five minutes. Planning Director Shanna Saunders stressed that rapidly changing messages and imagery distracted motorists.

Warren Hutchins, who chairs the Planning Board, said that the challenge in drafting the ordinance is to strike an appropriate balance between protecting the safety of the public and promoting the growth of business.

Noting that the city of Concord prohibits both types of electronic signage, Suzanne Perley, who chairs the task force and serves on the Zoning Board of Adjustment, said "I think we should allow them, but also protect the city." She added that no other municipality has such a detailed sign ordinance.

Saunders said that the Planning Board, after considering the recommendations of the task force next week, will schedule a public hearing on the proposed ordinance in May. Once the Planning Board approves the wording of the ordinance it will present its recommendation to the City Council for adoption.