Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keep the Town Sign Law “As Is”

It is not uncommon for municipalities in our region to ban internally illuminated signs. In Ulster and Dutchess counties, the following municipalities do not allow them: (Towns) Amenia, Clinton, Dover, Gardiner, Hyde Park, LaGrange, Milan, Rhinebeck, Shawangunk, Stanford, Unionvale, and Washington; (Villages) Red Hook, Rhinebeck, and Wappingers Falls. In the City of Kingston, they are prohibited in the RFR district. In 2001, New Paltz was a trendsetter when it passed our current sign law banning illuminated signage. But now, the town is considering revising the law to allow them.

Why do communities ban internally lit signs? There are many reasons, including, but not limited to: negative impacts on community character, negative consequences for attracting tourism, and light pollution. As a result, it is also bad for business.

New Paltz has a unique community character, built out of a rich history and an active citizenry that has worked hard to maintain this uniqueness, to not have our town turn into “anywhere America”. New Paltz’s attractiveness to tourists is built upon this character, and will be diminished by the “strip mall” appearance lighted signs bring.

Internally illuminated lights along our main street corridor will diminish our distinctive character. Maintaining this character is critical to the success of our local economy, and keeps our town attractive to residents and visitors alike. Eight years ago, our town leadership worked hard to craft and pass a sign law that reflected this community character, and we should keep those laws in place.

There is a public hearing this Thursday 10/22 on the proposed new sign law, Town Hall at 7pm.


Bill Mulcahy said...

How about the increasing traffic on Main Street diminishing our distinctive character? When is enough enough?

Dr. David Ness said...

KT, there is a big difference in the technology of today compared to 8 years ago. This law is not just about internally lit signs, it is about business like mine and those in the shop and stop plaza of having there names near the road so they can be seen. The short sightedness of the internally lighted signs arguement is not the issue. If this sign law is not passed businesses like mine, PDQ, New Paltz Bagels, fox and hound, and all the others in the plaza loose business because no one know they are there. The current law prohibits my having a directory sign, not even light from being displayed on the entrance to our plaza. This adversly effects my business. I would love to go into more detail with you but just having people show up to fight internally lighted signs in this town hurts our local business that are part of the reason come to our town. Please also notice the number of vacant store fronts in town and available office space. This law will make it harder to attract new business vital to this town for jobs, tax revenue,ect. Please come and support this new law, and hear about the real issues from Craig at PDQ and myself.

Anonymous said...

I agree with David, We need the internally lit signs to bring people into the shops. The argument that it detracts from the character of the town holds no water in my opinion. The character of the town isn't simply determined by a few people with an idea. It's a combination of everyone who works and lives in the town. The shop owners are in the thick of it, and often lead the way in creating the visual effect of the town. I ran a small business in downtown New Paltz for almost three years. Based on my experience, I would say that the internally lit signs should be available for use not only inside, but outside as well. Remember, There still must be a sign permit submitted to the town. So if the sign is too outrageous then the permit can be denied. It's not like people can just hang anything they want. Also, I'm sure that environmentally, the new signs are less of an impact then the old ones. -Mario

gadfly3 said...

Why is there always people in New Paltz who believe they are the ascetic police. They are the best judge of what should be permitted to be seen and what should not. Of course if someone were to complain about the look of their property or business they would scream bloody murder. They show no consideration for anyone else , espcially anyone who disagrees whith them. I would love to see all the businesses shut down for a day just to show these elitists what it would be without business and tht town and village what it would cost them

Jason West said...

David and Mario --

I don't see how internally lit signs equals more business. It's pretty clear they're ugly, and create a more strip-mall like atmosphere. Why is that good for business? How many more customers per week or month does having a neon or other internally lit sign bring in? Common sense tells me that if a business is not doing well, there are other reasons more pressing than whether your sign is lit from within or without. Unless I'm missing something, it seems that requiing all signs to be lit by down-facing lights from the outside, rather than internally lit has minor impact on businesses, while having a major impact on what our town looks like.

How do you respond to the common argument that having a classier looking town is better for business? That's the reasoning behind our sign law, and the sign laws of dozens of other communities.

Anonymous said...

Our community is great and unique with a view at the end of RT 299 that still puts me in awe every time I look at it. I believe this is what the locals and tourists and day visitors doing business feel as well. As locals we know what is available to us in town and maybe that is OK. However as a tourist or someone who is coming into New Paltz to do business, shop for colleges, see a doctor or have lunch with a great view of the ridge...well these people don't know what is available to them. Instead they drive around with their head spinning in all direction to 'figure it out'. I don't believe changing the sign laws of New Paltz would minimize the unique and wonderful character of this town that we all love. Would anyone of you have stayed away if the signs were different? No probably not, however it is important for non locals to realize what is available to them as they are driving through on their way to climb att the Gunks. Maybe those people would have gone to a deli, bought a bagel or a bottle of wine in town instead of another town? Our office is a destination place and everyday we are giving driving direction to people coming from all over the Hudson Valley. The only landmarks we can go by are the Shop & Stop and Dunkin Donuts signs, because by the time they have seen the Cherry Hill Plaza sign they have already passed us by. However a car stopped at a red light of that intersection will have an opportunity to know that there is an awesome art gallery, wine store and health food store back there. If you are concerned about New Paltz becomming cookie cutter or strip mall looking how do you think it SOUNDS to these daily visitors when we mention these two corporate giants. I believe anyone who is opposed to changing the sign laws are people who do not own business in town and therefore don't really 'get it'. I feel very fortunate to live in New Paltz and a sign will not change that. Judy Ness

Mark Gruber said...

This past weekend 3 couples,all from different out of area towns, decided to meet at the Mark Gruber Gallery to see our current exhibition. These were new customers who have never been to my gallery. Two of the couples had to call from New Paltz because they could not find the Mark Gruber Gallery. These are people LOOKING for my gallery, and they couldn't find me. How many people pass the plaza and have no idea a fine art gallery exists, out of view, towards the back of the plaza? If new customers LOOKING for my gallery can't find me how can I ever expect to get any potentially new customers to come off the road and find my store. The current sign law is killing my business and will force me to look elsewhere after 33 years of doing business in New Paltz. A directory sign in front of the plaza only makes common sense, and internally lit signs are greener, have less light pollution, can be seen better,are safer, and are easier to read. We're not looking for poorly designed signage. We hope the signs will enhance the plazas, the businesses they represent, and the town.
Mark Gruber

Anonymous said...

As a small business owner (though my business is located in Rosendale & not open to the public) who lives in NP and hates internally-illuminated signs, I am planning on coming to the meeting tonight to learn about the issue and make a comment. It seems there are several issues, and I wonder if a revision to the law can address them without allowing massively ugly strip mall-style internally illuminated signs.

For example, it seems idiotic that the Stop & Shop has a giant sign while the other small businesses in that plaza have no signs. Why is that allowed? Why not get rid of the S&S sign and make an attractive sign that is externally lit in darkness that lists all the businesses equally?

I'm sure Mark's points about internally lit signs being greener and his intentions to create a lovely one are completely true--the problem is that once you open the floodgates all kinds of hideous monstrosities will be allowed in our town.

I hate acting like the elitist aesthetics police, but it does seem that if enough people in town are bothered by these signs we should not have them. I moved to NP so I could see the stars, not giant signs for supermarkets.

Does anyone know if there is there a way to separate the issue of businesses not being allowed to display signs at all from the lighting issue? It seems that would be a good compromise.

Billy said...

The last hearing on these changes that I'm aware of took place last year and consisted of a room filled almost exclusively with small business owners. Up front were the PDQ guy, chmaber head and the supervisor. That meeting, not Crossroads or any other of her many blunders, is why I don't support Toni. She sat there idly as PDQ went through his proposed rewrite of the existing law. Put aside the fact that he's a business owner who wants to hang a giant sign to promote his business, but he also sells signs, so while his perspective his valid, it shouldn't be the driving force behind these changes. I sympathize with the tough environment for small business, but hey, this is New York. It's a tough place for EVERYONE who lives and works here. But we choose to do so. So, let's get past this short-sighted view that a bigger, brighter sign equals more business. I son't want to hear any talk of elitists trying to impose their arsthetic ideals on others. Living in a community is a series of compormises. You can't hang a bright pink flashing neon sign on you house even though you may tink it beautiful. It's about creating more business through distinguishing out community as a special place. Look at other towns. Live by the strip mall, die by the strip mall. As for Mr. Ness, I can see the frustration, but you have to deal with the good and the bad of situtaing your business in a high-traffic plaza on the busiest road in town. Surely the downside of not having whatever sign you want out front is offset by the benefits you receive of all the traffic from the other businesses. As for Mr. Gruber, I appreciate your business and want to see it thrive. But your customers must be idiots if they can't find the biggest strip mall at the most high-visibility location on the busiest road in town. Frankly, I never pay attention to those giant mall signs listing dozens of businesses. Who has time to see them all as you drive by? So many people have GPS in their car and Google maps at home, I don't beleive that people who want to find you not being able to is a serious issue. The problem here is that the business owners see this as exclusively their issue being decided by others. But this affects the whole town and the whole town has a say.

Anonymous said...

In 1999, New Paltz Planning Board members Toni Hokanson, Vic Danskin and Guy Kempe collaborated to propose revisions to the Town sign law. Following well attended public hearings, the sign law they proposed was adopted by the Town Board over the same objections we hear now from sign makers, members of the Chamber of Commerce, and business owners who insisted back then they would be run out of business in a year without their huge, ugly internally lit signs. What nobody remembers today is that those signs were unlawful under the provisions of the previous regulation, and many of those who objected to the proposed regulation were scofflaws. Why -oh why? can't we just enforce the sign law we have?

Several businesses have opened or installed new compliant signs since the sign law was enacted- Empire Bank, Frito Lay, Stop-and-Shop, Exxon/Mobil (at the Thruway) and Ulster Savings Bank. None of them appear to suffer a disadvantage from their signage.

David Ness said...

To the post above. All of those business are big corporations, the new law is about allowing small local business who are in the plaza to have a directory sign at the entrance. The existing law only allows Shop & Stop at the entrance of that plaza and it hurts the others in the plaza. As for internally lighted sign please read below to see the truth about it.

Terrance, The public hearing on the sign law has been closed. Toni H., herself went out and measured the light of Town & Village lighted signs with a light meter. Her findings were that the only sign that passed the test in the town ( giving off the least light pollution) was the LED light at the SUNY campus which is the standard for a internally lighted sign. All other signs failed, that is externally lit & existing internally lit within the TOWN and Village. Given that information the board had to face the fact that internally lit, LED signs are the wave of the future, give off the least light pollution, and use the least electricity because they are programmable. After the public hearing the board went through each part of the new law, made some more compromises and are now sending to the town attorney to review. After that, the town will vote.

gadfly3 said...

As long as the businesses that are effected by these restrictions are okay with them,I think that the comprimise they and the political class came up with should be the way to go. I would however like to see the political class tell the home owners what kind and size of trees they can have. What type of grass they should plant. What type of paint and color they can use both inside and outside their houses. This would in my opinion level the playing field