North Haven Sign Debate Wages On

Posted on 08 March 2012

Children of North Haven Village: your lemonade stand signs are more than safe from the clutches of government regulation.

But whether or not some other signs in North Haven will be remains to be seen, after the village board heard a handful of dissenting opinions during its Tuesday night monthly meeting. North Haven Village Attorney Anthony Tohill also presented a draft law to the board that did not ban most signs in the village, but did provide for regulation. He also clarified published reports that suggested the village would regulate signs indicating the street number of a residence, political support, signs for yard sales or even the crayon drawn markers leading drivers and residents to a cool glass of lemonade.

After receiving a letter from North Haven resident Carol Ahlers in December about a large wooden house number sign at Route 114 and Maunakea Street, the North Haven Village Board has embarked on a discussion about altering its signage laws. The discussion clearly peaked the interest of some members of the North Haven community, who attended the usually quiet monthly meeting to voice their concerns over government reaching onto their front lawns.

“This comes as a shock to me,” said resident Peter Harwood. “It’s something like fantasy land if you are going to ban signs in the village.”

Harwood said he believed that would be against the Constitutional rights afforded to residents under the First Amendment, and said that it was important that people be able to advertise a yard sale, or more importantly, a house for sale in a lagging economy.

Harwood suggested the board look at restricting the number or size of signs, but that an outright ban would open the village up to litigation.

“I was, perhaps, the most vocal in suggesting we ban signs and the reasons are numerous,” said board member Jeff Sander. He pointed to the detriment numerous signs posed to the character of a neighborhood and said regulating signs based on size or numbers comes with the additional task of the village policing that regulation — easier said than done.

Sander added that the private community of North Haven Point has already banned signs and it has not had a detrimental effect on that community or its real estate sales.

Ahlers said she would just like to see clarity in the code, to answer questions like whether a sign can be lit or its size can be limited. The number of signs could also be addressed, she said.

Tohill said first and foremost that lemonade signs, or political signs, which are protected under the Constitution, were never issues he believed the board intended to regulate. Real estate and construction site signage, however, have been on tap for discussion.

East Hampton Village, said Tohill, is considering requiring signs to be reduced to 18-inches-by-18-inches in size, and this kind of regulation is not uncommon. Tohill presented ideas to the board on how they could regulate signage, including banning illuminated signs or representational signs, regulating construction and real estate signs to 18-inches-by-24-inches, and only allowing one per site located no closer to the roadway than four feet from the front of a main building. He suggested that “sold” or “in contract” signs could also be prohibited.

Name signs would be regulated to two-square-feet and street numbers to one-square foot, although pre-existing signs would be able to remain until a property changed hands, under Tohill’s concept. Political signs would be allowed for 90 days, but not on the shoulder of the street, which is a public thoroughfare, he added.

Resident Brett Morgan suggested North Haven Village has too many houses set so far back from the street that the signs would not be visible and Tohill agreed.

“It is a free speech issue,” said Richard Flood, questioning how a municipality would regulate what he can do on his own property. Being a contractor, he added it was unfair to limit sites to one sign when contractors and architects work equally hard on a project.

Morgan was concerned the suggested legislation was too far reaching and that residents would have trouble understanding whether they complied, leading many to become in violation of the village code. Acknowledging it was difficult to know what the right answer was in this case, like Tohill he pointed to communities in Florida that have uniform green and gold signs for all posted signage.

“What that does is take the branding away from it,” he said.

Flood disagreed, saying he still would not want to be told what kind of sign he could erect on his own property.

“I think the best solution is life is pretty good, it was pretty good a couple months ago and why do we need a sign law,” said Flood, noting he thinks this all began with the house sign on Ferry Road.

North Haven Village Mayor Laura Nolan said the board would continue to take public input on the concept before drafting any final resolutions.

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