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HOPKINTON — At a special meeting Monday, the Town Council unanimously approved an amendment to Hopkinton’s sign ordinance that will ban all outdoor signs and displays that use LEDs (light-emitting diodes), organic light emitting diode panels, liquid crystal displays and plasma screens.
The amendment was first introduced by councilor and lighting designer Barbara Capalbo at a public hearing on June 19. Capalbo said the signs are a safety hazard and a threat to the atmosphere of rural communities.
“The intent is to prevent the use of self-illuminated, diode driven signage, both for health and safety, and for the aesthetics of a town,” she said. “If you allow the self-illuminated diodes, you end up getting super bright signs that can change color, flash, pattern, move, and you have no control over their brightness, how often they change.”
Light-emitting diodes are tiny bulbs without filaments that are self-illuminated by electrons moving in a semiconductor. The signs are extremely bright, and designed to attract the human eye, something critics say can be a dangerous distraction to motorists.
Hopkinton is not the only town confronting the LED signage issue. Westerly has declared a moratorium on the signs until the town decides how they should be regulated.
“This has come to us in the past few weeks,” said Westerly Town Planner Marilyn Shellman. “We’ve done a moratorium on it now. It’s still in flux.”
Charlestown zoning official Joe Warner said LED signs are already prohibited under the town’s sign ordinance.
“You can have external illumination, but all internally illuminated signs are prohibited, so that would prohibit any LED signs,” he said.
In Richmond, zoning official Russel Brown said an existing ordinance already prohibits LED signs.
“There’s no ordinance, but under the sign ordinance, under prohibited signs, I think they would be prohibited,” Brown said.
Capalbo warns that towns still need ordinances that specifically address LED signage, and points to the fact that there are already three smaller LED signs on Route 138 in the Wyoming section of Richmond.
“Charlestown should be, of course, cautious,” she said. “They don’t have any yet that I know of. And Richmond already has three in Wyoming, and they’re small right now, but this is just the beginning of LED signage.”
With Capalbo and fellow councilors Scott Bill Hirst, Tom Buck and council President Sylvia Thompson supporting the amendment, Councilor Frank Landolfi said he would too, provided the council remained open to revisiting the issue in the future if it became necessary.
“I don’t think it’s going to have any effect now, but I just think in the future that as things progress and businesses come into town, I want to be able to leave that door open. If it affects their business, I want to make sure we’re on top of that,” he said.
Capalbo said, “I don’t feel that this will be banned forever. I think we are banning it until such time as there are better controls on it. Right now, there are almost no controls you can do, and until they can be controlled, I think, because we don’t want to look like Johnston or Cranston, that this will cover us until such time as we can control them.”