Last Thursday, I had a work commitment and was late to the public hearing on the sign law. Thanks Town Board for letting me chime in on the topic later during open public comment. In a nutshell, my concerns were: elimination of the ban on internally illuminated lights, the increase in the allowable size of signs, and finally, the irrationality of the current signage (particularly in the area of the Stop and Shop and Cherry Hill plazas) and the misconception that the proposed changes were the best way to help local businesses – that rather than focusing on illumination and size, the focus should be on a level playing field in terms of directory signage.
I did find out via Lagusta’s Facebook status that there was some civility in the room during the public hearing… “Wow. I went to a Town Board meeting tonight, listened, said my piece, listened some more, everyone was relatively polite and intelligent (including our elected officials) and I left feeling like some real progress might be made. It was totally illuminating (that was a pun--the meeting was about illuminated signage!). What's happening to this world????”
Town Supervisor Toni Hohanson reported that she went around town and measured the brightness of existing externally illuminated signs. According to her very unscientific, but much appreciated informal study, only one sign in town currently meets the proposed new requirement for illumination - “(the) average level of illumination on the vertical surface shall not exceed three (3) foot-candles”. The one sign was the college sign on Rt. 208. Hmm… I know this sign, it is very dimly lit sign – which prompts a few questions:
1) Does this mean that any new signs – externally or internally lit – will need to be this dim? If so, good.
2) What does this mean for any currently existing signs? How long till business owners will have to comply with these new standards?
3) Any chance we could require these lights have zero carbon footprint? As in, be solar powered – if they are so dim, is this not possible?
4) Um, why bother fighting for illuminated lights if they are so dim?
In the debate on the sign law revisions, a huge misconception arose about opponents' collective opinion of the signage in town. Let’s be clear –opponents do not like the signage in our town, especially in the “Stop and Shop” and “Cherry Hill” area, and the concerns voiced were out of a fear that the proposed changes would make the situation worse – not a blind acceptance of the status quo. Of course, we want to make the signage better – less ugly, more rational, more helpful. Further, I would fully support a sign law that gave preferential treatment to local businesses, but I have no idea if you can legally do that.
Brighter is not necessarily better – nor is bigger. How can we maintain the community character we all cherish, support our local businesses, and make our town more navigable for residents and visitors alike? Those are the fundamental questions that need to be addressed, and the first set of proposed revisions to the law did not satisfactorily do that.
One other afterthought on this debate about revising the sign law: Joyce Minard and Craig Shankles are great citizens who do a TON for our community – I respect them both a great deal, but to only have business people on the sign law committee was a big mistake. It was only Joyce, Craig, and Toni Hokanson on the committee. There should have been at least one historic, one environmental/green, and perhaps other voices represented. This process might have been a little less contentious had there been a greater diversity of opinions on the committee. At a minimum, the appearance of stacking the deck with a business perspective would have been avoided.
After the public hearing, the board spent a considerable amount of time revising the revisions presented to them and have sent out the new copy to their lawyer. I am not sure if there will need to be another public hearing, but if so, we will post the announcement here.