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North Haven Seeks to Redefine “Sign”

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web North Haven Sign

By Claire Walla

It began last month with a letter from North Haven Village resident Carol Ahlers.

Addressing the village trustees, Ahlers wrote that she didn’t exactly care for the new, handmade wooden address that now sits on the corner of Ferry Road and Maunakea Street. The wooden carving, featuring a blocky rendition of the address “144 Ferry,” rests against a large, vertical surface of overlapping twigs.

Ahlers’ letter has since prompted village officials to re-examine the portion of village code that pertains to signage. While the Ferry Road sign is relatively large and sits very close to the road, the trustees said it wasn’t quite clear in the village code whether or not it is technically permitted.

Homeowner Kathie Russo said her boyfriend created the sign for the front of the house merely because in the past people couldn’t easily find their home.  “We did it for convenience and to be artistic,” rather than putting up a street address featuring “run-of-the-mill numbers,” Russo said.  “Not in any way was it our intention to be offensive to anyone.”

But according to Village Clerk Georgia Welch, “The thing is that the definition [of ‘sign’] does not get into specifics.”

According to North Haven Village Code, there are specific parameters for real estate signs, which cannot rest within 15 feet of the property line, or within 25 feet of the street. However, these specifics do not extend to any other type of sign. And while one “non-illuminated nameplate” sign (not to exceed two square feet) is permitted per household, Welch said the current code still leaves much open to interpretation.

“Signs can be troublesome. Everyone’s interpretation of a sign is very different,” she continued. “Anything that identifies anything can be considered a sign.”

Village Trustee George Butts sparked a dialogue about the specific aspects of the village code and expressed an interest in homing in on what exactly those changes should entail.

Currently, the village code defines “sign” as “a letter, word, model, banner, pennant, insignia, trade flag, device or representation used as, or which is in the nature of, an advertisement, attraction or directive.”

The proposed law as it currently stands (though it’s likely to be amended before the board’s next meeting) more clearly defines what this definition should encompass as: “any material, device or structure displaying or intending to display one or more messages visually and used for the purpose of bringing such messages to the attention of the public.”

It continues, “The term ‘sign’ shall also mean and include any display of one or more of the following: any letter, numeral, figure, emblem, picture, outline, character, spectacle, delineation, announcement, trademark or logo.”

The need to clarify what types of signs would be permitted in the village was made clear during the course of the meeting when Trustee Diane Skilbred said in reference to the Ferry Road structure: “The problem with that is it’s not 25 feet in [away from the road].”

However, Butts explained the situation is not that simple. For example, he said he has a small rectangular sign on his property that displays his home address; it is fastened to the front gate of his home. Should the 25-foot restriction go into effect, he argued, then he’d have to move his address back, as well.

For the record, Butts said “I have no problem with the sign [on Ferry Road].”

But, he urged the board to hold off on voting to change the wording in the village code until the wording of this aspect of village code had been worked out.

“We could end up with a whole big thing on our hands,” he added. “I don’t want to start that. I just want it done once.”

Welch said the village trustees would submit their comments and concerns to Village Attorney Anthony Tohill, who would draft another proposal to amend the definition of a sign, as laid-out in the village code.

As of Wednesday, Russo said she had yet to be contacted by anyone from the village on the matter.  “It’s not a huge deal for us,” she said.  “If we have to take ti down, we take it down.  I’m all for communicating with everyone.”

In other news…

The Village Trustees voted unanimously to approve Local Law #1 of 2012, which extends a law passed in 2011 to provide a temporary moratorium on wireless communications towers and antennas.

Board members also voted to hold two public hearings at next month’s meeting regarding two additional new laws. The first would extend the moratorium on dock applications, which was originally voted into law in 2011. And the second would provide for a procedure for issuance of demolition permits.