Bethel selectmen eye temporary directional signs for Black Diamond Steakhouse
The Maine Department of Transportation has asked Bethel to allow the installation of temporary directional signs on state routes to point the way to the Black Diamond Steakhouse, according to town officials.
The steakhouse is located on the Sunday River Road in Bethel, off Route 2.
Some selectmen, however, were wary of the request, and said at their meeting Monday they want input from other businesses located on the edges of town before making a decision.
Bethel has a memorandum of understanding with MDOT under which the town administers roadside directional signs within its borders.
But the town also has a Committee on Sign Ordinance Reform currently working on proposed changes to the ordinance that governs those signs. Residents will vote on the proposal at their June town meeting.
Town Manager Jim Doar said that an MDOT official had contacted him to say that a business had requested state directional signs in other towns, and if the state installed them there, signs would also be needed in Bethel in order to get motorists to the business.
Doar said the official asked the town to put up temporary kiosks on which the business signs could be placed. But Doar said he did not want the town spending money to install the structures now.
The MDOT official then said the state would do the installation, said Doar, a circumstance to which he said he would be more receptive.
But, he said, some members of the CSOR said the move would undermine their work.
The committee was split on the issue, Doar said. An owner of the steakhouse, Ron Savage, is a member of the committee.
“I took [the issue] off the table,” said Doar, but it was brought to the selectboard Monday to give members “the opportunity to reverse my decision.”
Selectman Don Bennett also serves on the CSOR. He said he asked that the question be put on the agenda.
“I would welcome this temporary [sign arrangement], between now and voting day,” he said.
(Bennett did not refer to the steakhouse by name throughout the 25-minute discussion, saying he would instead use the name of a North Road business as a hypothetical example. The steakhouse name was also not mentioned by others at the meeting. Doar provided it when asked Tuesday.)
Bennett said if a business requested a state sign in another town, “the state of Maine does not want to send someone up Route 26 and have them get to Bethel and suddenly not know where to go.
“You have to have continuity/connectivity. It would seem to me that we have the obligation to try to work with the state and with that business to get the customer to the business ... If there are people who disagree with this connectivity, I think there are two things: they really need to understand that a business perhaps does have a right to have a state sign in another town, and that it would seem to me that they would feel they would have the right to have some kind of connectivity/continuity to get to their business.”
Bennett acknowledged there could be problems and confusion with putting up temporary signs.
But, he said, “I would rather confuse things now and work it into the ordinance than I would to get to June and have Main Street businesses, let’s say, be frustrated because there’s going to be signs directing traffic away from Main Street – this ‘continuity’ that looks as though it’s heading people in the other direction.”
Doar disagreed that allowing the temporary signs could serve as a good trial, noting they would look like the current kiosk signs in Bethel that direct drivers to businesses, not like the new, larger signs under consideration by the committee.
“I don’t think that works as a pilot,” he said.
In addition, he said, “Do we really think adding a directional sign moving people to the Sunday River Road is going to drive more traffic to the Sunday River Road in February than is there already? I think it raises a lot of questions, questions about fairness, questions about businesses not located in Bethel up on the Sunday River Road.”
Accommodating other businesses interested in the arrangement would also add more signs, he said.
Selectman Pat Carter said she wanted to know how many other businesses might be interested in such signs before deciding on the request.
Other board members agreed, and Doar said he would send letters to the businesses asking for input.
Selectmen will next consider the issue at their March 11 meeting.
In other business Monday, selectmen named four people to the new Bingham Forest Authority, which will oversee the town’s 2,300-acre forest.
Named were Ian Drew, Chris Hayward and Jarrod Crockett of Bethel, and Jim Largess of Newry.
A Newry representative is included because the forest land is located in that town.
A fifth member will be named from the Bethel Water District board.