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Letter to the Editor: Limit the 'Loudness' of Visual Messages

Two Woodbury residents advocate limiting the size of political signs.

 

To the Editor:

The Woodbury Zoning Commission is considering repealing its 12 square foot limit for political signs based on perceived violation of free speech.  The argument that such limits are unconstitutional is for courts, not zoning commissions, to decide. The character of neighborhoods and safety of residents are two legitimate zoning reasons for keeping this limit. 

Limiting the size of signs is one way to maintain the character and attractiveness of Woodbury.  Repealing size requirements for political signs would subject residential neighborhoods to billboards promoting political messages.  We limit the decibel level of audio messages to protect our environment; likewise, we should limit the “loudness” of visual messages to preserve that environment.

More important is safety.  Removing size limits on political signs compounded by unrestricted placement and number could  lead to any amount of gigantic lawn billboards that block sight lines from driveways and side streets. Do we need to run the risk of even one accident?

Free speech is not an unrestricted right.  Shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater threatens the safety of others; incessantly broadcasting a message over loudspeakers in a quiet neighborhood late at night is offensive to others.  Both are disallowed, and oversized political billboards in residential neighborhoods fit both categories.  The current regulation of political signs strikes an appropriate balance by affording the right to share one’s opinion without violating the sensibilities and safety of others.

Twelve square feet is plenty.  Repeal will open a Pandora’s Box threatening the appearance and safety of Woodbury.  The Commission reportedly may even shield political signs from any zoning regulations, even illumination.  Is this what residents want?  If not, speak up before it’s too late.

William A. Monti, Woodbury
George Hale III, Woodbury

Editor's Note: George Hale is a selectman in Woodbury.

Sean M August 14, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Clearly Hale and Monti have not read any relevant information on the subject. I do not ever recall seeing George Hale at a single Zoning meeting in the past 12 months. Here is a link to the regulations. http://woodburyct.org/WoodburyZoningRegs_2010FINAL%20May%201.pdf Taken directly from the regulations: (on page 80) 7.5.9 Prohibited Signs: All signs not specifically permitted are prohibited. Prohibited signs include, but are not limited to the following: A. Sign Types: Animated Signs, Balloon Signs, Banners, Beacons, Billboards, Festoons, Flag Signs, Inflatable Signs, Internally Lit Signs (including those inside a building that are visible from the road or adjacent property and in vending machines), Portable Signs, Roof Signs (except in Middle Quarter District), and vehicular signs that are not used in the normal course of business. The internally lit provision takes care of the illuminated sign issue. The other false issue that is being brought up is safety issues. This is also covered under the regulations under 1.3.1.4. "In their interpretation and application, the provisions of these Regulations shall be held to be minimum requirements adopted for the promotion of the public health, safety and general welfare..." Bill Monti was an alternate on the Zoning Commission until losing re-election in November. How come he is not familiar with the regulations? How come George Hale did not read the regulations? These are easily available.
Sean M August 14, 2012 at 02:31 PM
In addition, the Commission has been advised repeatedly to get rid of the regulation 7.5.10.i, which places a 12 sq ft limit on political signs. There have been 2 legal opinions from Town Atty Richard Roberts: November 9, 2010 and June 14, 2011. I have read these and listened to all correspondence on the matter. Atty Deb Stevenson, former Atty General candidate Martha Dean, the ACLU of CT, and the Council of Governments have all advised to get rid of the restrictions. I have never seen any legal advise that says keep the size restrictions. If Woodbury takes someone to court, Woodbury will lose. It is the job of the Zoning Commission to deal with the Constitutionality of matters. That is what officials are elected to do. Atty Roberts gave the Commission the "Substantial State Interest" provision as a guideline on how to deal with signs. Roberts furnished the Commission a lengthy packet of 100+ pages of case law. On private property, there needs to be a major reason to restrict speech. The best example was in Shelton where a country club wanted to hold concerts late at night. Given the club was in a residential area, it was denied because it would impede on the rights of the neighbors. The majority of complaints on political signs have been by Democrats and Democrat Town Committee members on Tom Arras and others supporting Republicans. Their complaints are largely based on the premise that they find the signs ugly.
Sean M August 14, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Unfortunately because someone does not like the look of a sign, that is not grounds to restrict free speech. The other problem is Chairman Martin Overton is a big part of the problem. The Overturn Overton sign has been up for a year and the Commission has not voted to deal with the problem. Every chance I have had, I have voted to deal with this matter. Hopefully, the Commission will do the right thing and make a determination one way or another. Tom Arras has stated that his Overturn Overton sign will stay up until the matter is dealt with. I feel Arras's rights have been violated by the way he has been treated. Overton on two occasions has abused his chairmanship by demanding Tom take the Overturn Overton sign down during a meeting. This is not the role of a chairman, but why should the rules ever bother Martin. Disclosure: I am an alternate on the Commission and my opinions are mine alone.
Voice of Reason August 14, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Hear Ye, Hear Ye. All shall bemoan the battle cry, “Do it for the children”. I thought the Democrats have been stating, for years, that the large signs were a violation of regulations. Now, after loosing on one front, it is an issue of public safety. Umm, Hogwash! I say. I've been through all the towns, at hundreds of intersections and driveways of businesses and residences. Guess what? No one, regardless of affiliation or candidate support has put a sign in an area that blocked a sight line. It would appear that those installing the signs have taken the safety issue to heart already. Loudness? Attractiveness? Come on, do a little better please. The signs are temporary. Further, it is more than just a political sign or simply candidate support, it is a form of protest. Protestors get loud. Think of the 60's and the recent OWS. Sometimes one needs to get loud to have one's voice heard. Do we really want to not just let more Rights be taken away but to ask for it to happen? Perhaps we should not be looking at whether a right (this one or others) can be further restricted but look to regulations already in place and ask if they have already gone too far with said regulations. I hope everyone eligible to vote for him remembers Selectman Hale (who wants to further erode your Rights) when election time comes and they don't deface the landscape with a sign supporting him, I'm sure he would feel it to be hypocritical to erect one.
Jaimie Cura (Editor) August 14, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Facebook page comments on this link: Chef Frank: This has been carrying on for far too long - I think sufficient case law and precedents have been presented to the board and its members support the repeal of this ordinance as being unconstitutional (based on the videos and minutes of boar d meetings I've seen). No action has been taken except to delay a resolution. The major parties in town should push the issue and let it work its way through the courts, which will ultimately decide the validity of the ordinance as it applies to political signage. Kim Banach Carrington: It's reasonable to keep them at a size that doesn't obstruct another persons view of on coming traffic- or regardless of size, keep them far enough back that it cannot obstruct the view. For me it's about the safety issue. I don't think they affect the attractiveness of the town. www.facebook.com/woodmiddpatch
Sean M August 14, 2012 at 10:12 PM
This issue is not and has never been about safety or light up signs. It is about a selected group of people who feel they have the right to control other people's lives. This nonsense has cost the town thousands of dollars and you can thank Martin Overton for that. He got the town into a Freedom of Information hearing after hiding the June 2011 legal opinion from the Commission. The legal opinion admonished the proposed regulation changes that Martin and the Land Use office put together. It was Martin Overton who cancelled the June 2012 workshop at the last minute that once again delayed starting this process another month. This should have been dealt with over a year ago. Overton is the problem and will continue to be until his term is up next November.
Voice of Reason August 14, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Selectman Hale and Mr. Monti wrote: “The argument that such limits are unconstitutional is for courts, not zoning commissions, to decide.” Bravo my good men! Let us use the taxpayers dollars to drag the town into a legal battle that doesn't have to be. We should not follow the legal opinion of the town attorney (and the ACLU and Martha Dean as mentioned by Mr. Murphy above)? Following is a quote from Chief Justice Roberts. This quote is referenced to the Supreme Court case involving the Westboro Baptist Church. "Speech is powerful," Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority in that case. "It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain.On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker." So we must uphold the First Amendment Right of these “Church” goers, not punish the speaker, but must not put up too large of a political sign so as to not offend the senses of Selectman Hale and former Commission Member Monti????
tom arras August 19, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Martin Overton and his supporters should be ashamed of himself the way he attempts to steer the zoning commission towards supporting his personal vendetta. The fact that his supporters include both past & present elected officials sworn to uphold the law makes a mockery of the law. Martin should resign.

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