After extensive talk about signs, Planning Board members approved the final plan pitched by DMK Development on behalf of Tractor Supply Co.

City councilors will next take up the proposal, as the project falls under contract rezoning rules.

The plan was updated to use a darker red for exterior accent colors than is typical for the farm and pet supply retailer. Trees also were moved to a more protected location between the sidewalk and the parking lot. The board is making several recommendations for conditions of approval to the council as well.

By far, the most discussion Aug. 14 revolved around signs. Typical Tractor Supply signs are a pylon type — a tall post with a sign at the top — that is lighted from the inside. However, Director of Codes and Planning Wayne Marshall noted that monument-style signs — lower to the ground and typically horizontal — are encouraged in the area of Route 3 where the property is located.

City Planner Sadie Lloyd Mudge advised the board that the decision on Tractor Supply’s sign would probably set a precedent for future nearby development.

Most board members objected to internally lit signs, though Wayne Corey provided some support for the idea. He said he is concerned that siting the building more than 200 feet back from Route 3 already has reduced its visibility and that an externally lit sign might not call enough attention to the retail store.

“Do you not want people to find them?” he asked, later adding, “We should make this area favorable for this development.”

Board member Daisy Beal pointed to downtown Freeport as an example of externally illuminated signs. She said the area is both attractive and noticeable. She said she’s lived in areas with billboards blocking views and she does not like the idea of that happening in Belfast.

Other board members agreed with Beal. Hugh Townsend suggested the board was “kind of changing the game for this applicant” by indicating it does not like the company’s basic sign. That meeting was the first time the issue had been brought up, he noted, and it was the final review of the application.

Corey said the company already has made many adjustments to its plans at the request of the city and said it should be allowed to use its preferred type of sign.

“We should try and accommodate,” he said. “ … We shouldn’t be so radical.”

Planning Board Chairman Steve Ryan said the city should not have “a flashy strip” like Saco.

“We’re trying to maintain a feel for what Belfast is,” he said.

Corey weighed in again and said, “It’s a commercial area, let it be commercial.”

A representative for the developer confirmed the preference would be for an internally lit sign, regardless of its height; however, later in the meeting, he said DMK representatives, via text, agreed to a monument-style sign with external lighting.

Marshall said monument-style signs also are allowed to be larger, to encourage more businesses to adopt the style.

The project is not yet a done deal, as the City Council still must approve the contract rezoning agreement. Marshall said Aug. 26 he expects the council to take up the agreement at its Sept. 17 meeting.