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December 09. 2012 10:42PM

Lobbyist raises questions, Derry delays on sign rules

DERRY - After listening to several points raised by a lobbyist for sign manufacturers, the planning board agreed to table a vote on a change in the town's sign ordinances until its Jan. 16 meeting.

But the lobbyist's presence did raise questions.

"Who is the International Sign Association and who are you here representing?" Town Administrator John Anderson asked at Wednesday's meeting. "And how do we have the privilege of having someone from Alexandria, Va., telling us about our sign ordinance in the town of Derry?"

Kenny Peskin, state and local government affairs manager for the association, said it represents sign manufacturers across the country and that he and another member attend more than 50 workshops and hearings across the country per year.

"You are a paid lobbyist, then?" Anderson asked.

Peskin said he is a lobbyist.

"But I am not compensated by anybody for coming here," he said. While there are no sign association members in Derry, Peskin said the group does represent members in New Hampshire.

Town code enforcement officer Robert Mackey said Peskin raised some issues he would like to take a closer look at before having the planning board take a final vote on the updated sign regulations.

Peskin, who was the sole person to speak on the proposed changes, said the association generally supports the town's efforts to make the sign ordinance clearer. However, Peskin said there were several revisions that could lead to legal challenges.

He said the town should allow for a substitution clause allowing business owners to put noncommercial messages, such as political signs, in place of the commercial messages.

Peskin said the town should also look at the regulation for the neighborhood commercial district, where advertising information is not allowed on business signs under the town ordinance.

"This content-based regulation could be overturned in court," said Peskin. For example, he said the wording of the ordinance could prevent doctors' offices from putting doctors' names on signs if the names were not part of the practice name.

He also pointed to the abandoned sign ordinance, which allows the town to have signs removed if a business is vacant for more than 60 days.

Mackey said he did not foresee the abandoned sign ordinance being an issue.

"It is certainly not our intent that if a business shuts down for renovation that we would consider it abandoned," he said.

Once approved by the planning board, the sign ordinance will go to the town council for final approval.

aswift@newstote.com

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