A restaurant owner in the Old Port is in the middle of controversy with the city's historic preservation board regarding a sign that the owner wants to put up.

The owner, Noah Talmatch, owns the Portland Meatball Company, which opened a few weeks ago, and Timber, which is right next door at 110 Exchange Street. He also owns the North Point restaurant.

He wants to put up a sign on his meatball restaurant, but the historic preservation board denied his application for the permit for the sign, saying it "ignored the characteristics of the building."

"This is about whimsy," said Talmatch. "It's about liking Picasso or liking Rembrandt. They like Picasso and I like Rembrandt."

The Old Port is one of 11 historic districts in Portland, and is governed by law and ordinance concerning any changes, including signs, made to buildings in that area.

"The goal is to not lose those characteristics of an historic structure that make it distinctive, that tell you what timeframe it was built in," said Deborah Andrews, the program manager of the Historic Preservation Board.

Andrews said the sign did not fit along the buildings "lintel," which is an area above the store's front door where centuries ago, business owners would place their signs. Talmatch's sign is taller than the designated area.

"It's not appropriate to that particular building and the characteristics of that particular building and it's not consistent with the signage in the surrounding area," said Andrews.

"They're worried that somehow my sign is going to somehow ruin the architecture of the Old Port. That's just not the case," said Talmatch.

Andrews said the regulations are in place not only to preserve the history of the buildings, but also to put all businesses on a level playing field when it comes to signage.

Talmatch said other stores in the Old Port that are of a similar style to his do not have to follow the rules that the board is imposing on him.

Andrews said that each building is considered uniquely and that the architecture, the year the building was built, and the original purpose of the building are all taken into consideration when deciding whether to approve a application for a permit for a sign.