Rockland council amends signage ordinance before future art debates

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 6:45pm

    ROCKLAND – Is it a sign? Or, is it artwork? In the aftermath of a debate that started on Main Street and ended in City Hall, Rockland City Council members amended an ordinance pertaining to a highly subjective matter, without having to form committees and decide the quality and aesthetics of certain structures.

    Do the letters E-A-S-T, to be hung from the side of a restaurant, constitute art or sign regulations? As of Monday, Nov. 13, the structure, within the sign ordinance has been determined art.

    Signs, according to Code Enforcement Officer John Root, include anything that draws attention to any person, place, or thing is technically a sign.

    Councilors made no mention of the debate regarding the letters that Jen Rockwell and her father, Rick, have fought to mount to the side of Ada’s Kitchen near the north end of Rockland’s downtown.

    Instead, they voted on verbiage within the ordinance, Ch. 19, Secs. 19-302; 19-315 Signs; Artwork Display, in order to clarify some of the issues Root has been presented with over the years.

    During the Nov. 6 agenda-setting meeting, Councilor Adam Ackor said: “I think that there is a slippery slope that opens up somewhat in that now, moving forward, artwork can come in any kind of form and be placed on any building. And so I think it’s worth going through this.”

    More specifically, a sign, according to Root, is any structure, display, picture, logo, symbol, device or representation which is designed or used to advertise or call attention to any thing, person, business, activity or place and is visible from a public place.

    Artwork is something created by an artist, does not contain or directly advertise anything, and does not have a logo or trademark.

    Years ago, according to Root, the owner of a lobster business wanted to erect a lobster sculpture. He was told no, because the definition of a sign includes drawing attention to a business and what that business includes. Steeves was in the business of selling lobster, Root said. The lobster sculpture would have advertised that product.

    On the other hand, Root has received a couple of requests for murals on exterior walls of businesses. The murals would not have advertised the businesses in any way. However, prior to Monday’s amendment, the ordinance listed mural within the same definition of a sign that advertises.

    For the Rockwells, now that EAST has no relation to any enterprise, the structure can be allowed, providing that it meets the proper city permits. Henceforth, it will be categorized as a “mural or work of visual art.”

    “I like the definition of sign. I like the different definition of art,” Councilor Valli Geiger said. “I like that we have standards in it that still require a building permit, and a license approval. And I think you’re right that it’s not about advertising or aesthetics. It’s not my opinion whether its a good sign or not.”

    “The EAT sign on the Farnsworth. The Strand sign,” she said. “Like the EAT sign, it [EAST] says something, but it’s artwork. What’s the fuss? What’s the controversy here?”

    The EAT sign, a frequent example during the debate, has been considered art. Initially on loan from an outside provider, EAT further represented the art – the point – of the museum.

    But Rockwell’s EAST?

    It’s a word, according to Rick Rockwell.

    “There’s no such business as EAST,” he said. “EAST is a concept. It’s a general direction. The object of this piece is to celebrate the past of Rockland. It speaks about our proximity as being in the eastern part of our country, in the most eastern parts of our state.”

    According to Rockwell, the colored letters celebrate Rockland, it’s history and its future. Red for the Lobster Festival. Red and green for Christmas. Some yellow for somersaults. Blue for the Blues Festival.

    For Jen, the mounted structure would add vibrancy to the northern side of the downtown district. During the meeting she told councilors how the entrance to downtown from Park Street, on the south side, provides a lot of energy and interesting sights. Yet further north, toward her establishment, drivers start speeding up due to their perception that there’s nothing more to look at until the ferry terminal.

    For the City, it’s about the regulations, the proper permits, and the DOT approvals.


    Sarah Thompson can be reached at