To the Editor:
When it comes to the Town Of Woodbury’s regulation of signs, including signs defined in the regulations as “Political Signs”, much has been said but little has been agreed.
The Woodbury Zoning Commission (WZC) has been bombarded over the past couple of years with allegations that Political Sign regulations violate both state and federal constitutions as these apply to free speech. The WZC itself still appears to be split on the issue, despite our own attorney’s attendance before us and his diplomatic but firm assurance that while the existing 7.5.10 regulation would likely be unconstitutional (for reasons of discrimination, NOT free speech) the suggested wording rejected by the commission on two occasions is not unconstitutional by any clear test.
At the WCZ regular meeting September 11th, an attorney who has appeared before us on other occasions concerning the same subject responded to questions from Alternate Murphy and me, about case law in Connecticut pertaining to signs and free speech. Her response was that the Sec 5 of the Connecticut Constitution states that, “No law shall ever be passed to curtail or restrain the liberty of speech or of the press”, and absent any guiding case law on the subject only a plain wording interpretation of this section is applicable to the Woodbury regulations.
However there appears that case law very prominently exists and I would like to bring it to the attention of all parties. In Groton Long Point, Donna Kroll placed a twenty square foot piece of plywood with the words “Who asked the Deer?” to protest a proposed ordinance allowing deer hunting. ZEO Steere proceeded to enforce the regulation allowing only one sign of no larger than one square foot. In Kroll v Steere the Connecticut Superior Court found that the regulation and its enforcement was not a violation of Kroll’s First Amendment rights.
Upon appeal, the Connecticut Appellate Court ruled unequivocally that a zoning regulation which referred to the size of sign and “...makes no attempt to regulate the content of residential signs" therefore "… did not infringe on the plaintiff’s constitutional right of freedom of speech”.
Thus, while I am not a lawyer, it appears the prevailing Connecticut case law on the subject (1) follows the US Supreme Court decisions and (2) found that the size of signs, even political signs, can be regulated by a town, under the US Constitution, the Connecticut Constitution and the laws of the State of Connecticut.
That’s not to say that the current regulation governing political signs is well drafted. To the contrary, I have advocated changes to the size limitation (as being unfairly too small) and the language that may be construed as discriminatory, contained in the amendment to this regulation that our attorneys help us to write but that the WZC rejected last fall. I continue to believe that this is a better approach to addressing the valid claims of some and also in the best interests of the Town than repeal, by far.
As a personal aside I am disappointed that it appears that an attorney, weighing in several times to a municipal Zoning Commission struggling to do the right thing, in a dispute over enforcement would either not know of or deny the existence of a ruling which quite clearly and in very similar factual circumstance, appears to hold against the very position she advocates.
Martin Overton, Chairman, Woodbury Zoning Commission
Editor's Note: Letter writer Martin Overton stated in an e-mail that the opinions expressed in his letter are his alone and not that of the Zoning Commission.