CHINA — Noah Whitt came to Tuesday night’s Planning Board public hearing bearing placards that read “Keep digital signs off after biz closed” and “Protect our town,” among other things.

Whitt, who lives on Lakeview Drive, is concerned about a proposed change to the town’s land development code that would exempt business signs put up before June 8, 2010, from complying with the sign ordinance, as well as allow businesses to keep signs lit up after closing hours until 10 p.m.

Other land use ordinance changes discussed Tuesday included a proposal to adopt Maine’s seasonal conversion rules that determine whether a property can get a permit to convert from a seasonal property to a year-round one.

The proposed change in the part of the ordinance addressing signs would grandfather signs that existed before the June 2010 ordinance change and are now nonconforming. The 2010 change included restrictions to the type of lighting the signs have and size. If ownership changes or the sign is altered, it’s no longer grandfathered.

The ordinance as written six years ago held that all signs had to be in compliance and there was no allowance for grandfathering. About 60 to 70 percent of the signs in town were in violation, Code Enforcement Officer Paul Mitnik said. Recently complaints spurred the board to address the issue.

If the change passes, all signs, including those grandfathered, would be turned off from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m., unless the business is open during those hours. That’s a change from the ordinance’s previous language, which said signs could be lit only during business hours.

“Clearly we have to look at the sign ordinance,” board Chairman Frank Soares III said. He said the board had received a lot of comments on the proposed change.

Those against grandfathering noncomforming signs noted how bright illuminated ones can disturb the sleep of those who live nearby.

“The funny thing about signs is you can’t unsee a sign, right? It’s just there,” Whitt told the board.

Whitt is also concerned that the “blanket grandfathering” is unfair to businesses that did the work to get code-approved signs. He also said he doubts the town has a way to verify which businesses’ signs didn’t comform before the ordinance was passed.

Whitt also didn’t like the ordinance’s language that allows the lights to stay on until 10 p.m.

“Most businesses that are open at 10 are probably 24-hour businesses,” he said. “In essence, we’re saying it could be on all night.”

He said there’s no data that proves that leaving a small business’ sign lit up after it closes will help market it. He also thinks the late time the ordinance allows will make it easy for people to break the rules.

China’s code enforcement officer only works part time. Whitt said he doubts he will be up at 10 p.m. to check that signs are turned off.

“The town just has a terrible burden to enforce,” he said.

Whitt also said the glow of sign lights could affect someone’s ability to sell their home or camp.

“They (his neighbors) have one of the most beautiful lakes in the state, in one of the most beautiful towns,” but they have to deal with a flashing sign, he said.

After the meeting, Whitt said he just wants to “preserve the sense of place that we have in this town.”

Scott Pierz, a former town code enforcement officer and a 35-year resident who is now president of the China Lake Association, went through the entire land use ordinance document to point out what he agreed with and what he thought could use some tweaking.

In the proposed language, the board has switched from using “volume” to “footprint” to better follow 2015 Department of Environmental Protection guidelines, which use the same term.

“If you’re going to shift looking at the footprint of a structure … you’ve got to keep in mind you don’t want to lose sight of someone who wants to build a deck and change it to a two-story enclosed living space,” Pierz said.

On adopting the state’s seasonal conversion rules to a full-time residence, Pierz said, “China didn’t want to give up its home rule authority.”

He said in the 2008-09 fiscal year, the town created a database of which properties were deemed seasonal after a revaluation.

The proposed change also removes language that says the owners can visit their seasonal properties for 204 days out of the year.

“I think that’s just problematic,” Pierz said. “If you get a family from Connecticut who’s got a piece of property, it might be insulated, the family use it for a holiday. … If you try to apply a strict period of time, you’re doing a disservice to those people.”

Pierz also said that he agrees with and appreciates many of the proposed changes, but the board has to “have the enforcement behind it.”

A seasonal resident of Fire Road 22, Harry Fraser, said he is looking to convert his property to a year-round residence and has redone the septic system over the past few years.

“There ought to be a way for seasonal people to have some rules to become a year-round place,” he said. “I think there needs to be an out for people who can conform and are trying to do the right things from an environmental perspective.”

Fraser said that while he meets the acreage requirement, he doesn’t meet the frontage requirement, and he said he is unsure why that rule is necessary.

After the meeting, Soares said he’d have to look at Fraser’s case to find out why he doesn’t meet the requirements. However, in the 1960s and ’70s, he said, a national news agency called China Lake the worst lake in the United States because there was so much algae from the septic systems, as well as phosphorous. The Morning Sentinel also reported on lake quality issues in 2015. Soares said that the frontage requirement is to make sure there aren’t too many houses around the lake, which have septic systems, which could pour into the lake and foster algae growth. Soares also said the board would have to look more closely at some things in the changed code and possibly make some adjustments, including the signs issue.

Fewer than a dozen people attended the first of two public hearings on the proposed changes. The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at the Town Office. The board will compile the comments it received Tuesday night, as well as any written comments it receives within seven days of the meeting, and make adjustments to the proposed code.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour