LINCOLN – The Lincoln Planning Board is supporting several changes to a town ordinance that has been deemed unconstitutional.
The constitutionality of Lincoln’s zoning ordinance on temporary signs has been called into question for several years, particularly during election seasons, when some candidates directly violated the ordinance with no repercussions.
The issue came to a head again during the campaign for town administrator this year, when political signs began popping up around town early.
Under the current ordinance, signs can’t be put up until 30 days before the election. Political signs related to an election or referendum shall be removed within seven days after the election or referendum.
The language mandating that signs be removed seven days after the election is on the chopping block, but the 30-day rule has not been removed, though it’s still unenforceable.
Further proposed amendments to the ordinance would remove language that previously prohibited “signs determined by the zoning officer to constitute a hazard to traffic or public safety by reason of size, location or type of illumination,” and flashing signs that contain “an intermittent or sequential light source.”
Town Solicitor Tony DeSisto said the changes were prompted by a case in Portsmouth where a resident complained about the town’s sign ordinance and filed an injunction with the ACLU. The ordinance was ultimately found to be unconstitutional.
“Political signs, unlike other signs, are considered to be protected free speech,” DeSisto said. “Lincoln’s zoning ordinance has some provisions in there that have been questioned by those running for office.”
He said the ordinance includes limitations on when signs can go up and on the size of signs. The 30-day provision “hasn’t been enforced in this town in years on my advice,” he said.
DeSisto was asked to propose the amendments by the Town Council in an effort to protect Lincoln from a lawsuit. The Planning Board needed to sign off first, ensuring the changes are in line with Lincoln’s comprehensive plan.
DeSisto said the new ordinance is in compliance because it is now in line with constitutional law.
With the Planning Board’s approval on Aug. 31, the changes will go back before the Town Council next month for a public hearing.