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September 13, 2012

Revised sign law ready for public scrutiny

By JIM AUSTIN

The Cooperstown Crier

After 18 months of work, the planning board has a revised village sign law ready for public perusal.

The planning board will hold a public information session during its next meeting at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, in the village meeting room. Chairman Charlie Hill said the session is not a public hearing, but an opportunity for residents to ask questions and offer comment to the planning board. Following the session, the planning board will decide whether to make any adjustments to the revised law before it goes to the board of trustees for its approval. The board will have to hold a public hearing on the law before it can be adopted.

Part of the impetus for the revision was that as well-intended as the current law was, when working with it the planning board found that many of the definitions were vague and left room for various interpretations, Hill said.

“We also found many terms that had no definition at all. This has been very troublesome,” Hill said. “Any law with specific rules and regulations should have definitions. We needed to correct this.”

The current sign law has 21 definitions; the revised law has 60.

Another factor in the revision of the law was the community’s discussion about the use of temporary signs to represent personal points of view and how they are regulated, Hill said.

The board found that the courts have ruled that every individual has the right to freedom of speech that cannot be denied and that freedom of speech may be expressed through temporary signs on private property.

According to Hill, political, yard sale, not-for-profit events, construction and realty signs all fall under the umbrella of free speech. Municipalities may exert some modest control over them, such as size, placement and length of time.

  “As long as each type of temporary sign is treated equally with no reference to content,” he said. “We selected what we feel is a balance between the right of individual to free speech and the right of the public to prevent visual clutter. We feel that balance is a very important thing. We want each individual to be able to advertise their point of view and respect the public intent to prevent visual clutter.”

One type of sign that has been challenging for the planning board has been window signs in the business and commercial districts, Hill said.

  Under the revised law, businesses may affix signs to the window glass as long as it does not take up more than 25 percent of the glass area.

  “What you put in your display window is up to you,” he said.

  The 25 percent limit was the most common number in the sample laws the board looked at.

  There is a limit of two lighted signs with a total of no more than eight square feet.

  In order to make it easier to use, the revised law has tables and an illustration of different sign types. The planning board also put together a photo album of 90 different types of signs. With few exceptions the photos were taken of signs in the village.

That album, A Photo Guide to the Signs of Cooperstown, may be viewed by contacting the zoning enforcement officer.

“It gives a pretty good idea for anyone looking for a particular sign type,” Hill said.

The sign law regulates signs on private property, Hill said. Signs on public property are regulated by the board of trustees, such as Doubleday Field banners, signs on public property during special events and signs in parks and on the trolleys.

The board, Hill said, laid out the revised law in a logical sequence as opposed to the current one in which things are scattered all over. Board members also reviewed more than 30 sign laws from municipalities in New York and other states.

Hill said he believes the revised law will be much more user-friendly than the current one.

“I think it will sort out and make things easier for people,” Hill said. “It’s not been an easy thing to put together, but I think it is fair, balanced, reasonable and consistent.”

Copies of the revised law are available in the clerk’s office and at the planning board meeting on Sept. 18.

 

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