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Letter to the Editor: Political Sign Update Shared By Resident

Woodbury resident Sean Murphy shares the history of political signs in town.

 

To the Editor:

I have assembled information on what has been going on in Woodbury with regards to political signs.  My goal is to get information out to the public to see what is really going on in town.  Any opinion expressed is mine solely. 

This process started in October 2010 with complaints filed on yard signs for Republican Candidate for Attorney General Martha Dean.  These signs were on the Arras and Crawford properties.  There were 4 initial complaints filed on these signs.

 

  • A letter dated October 6, 2010 from 13 Democrats, including Richard Snider, Zoning Member Bob Clarke, and Selectman George Hale.  10 of the complainants are members of the Democrat Town Committee. 
  • A letter dated October 6, 2010 from Adele Taylor.  Her comments include “Signs are too big!” Our town is made unattractive and toxic with signs that are large & obnoxious.”
  • A letter dated October 8, 2010 from Sharon Sherman (Vice Chairman of the Democrat Town Committee).  Her comments include “Also, signs are counter to the Historic Dist. rules & regulations re appropriateness to the historic district.”
  • A letter dated October 12, 2010 from Marjorie Hubbard.  Her comments include “Huge (oversized) political campaign signs; visual pollution; against “size” ordinance in town; Historic District locations (?)” 

 

There was a legal opinion obtained dated November 9, 2010.  Here are the summations of the opinion:

This opinion gives risk management issues associated with going to court to resolve restrictions on political signs.  Attorney Roberts’ role is to give the Commission information with the understanding that the Zoning Commission must make determinations. 

Roberts concludes in paragraph 3, “In summary, regulations applicable to political signs should not be any more restrictive than they are for any other type of sign and the regulations must serve a demonstrable public interest in the narrowest manner possible.” 

In paragraph 5, Roberts gives examples of current regulations that allow more than 12 sq. ft. of signage.  Those regulations are 7.5.10.C, 7.5.11.E, 7.5.12.F, G, and H. 

In paragraph 6, Roberts states “there is a significant risk that those restrictions would be found to constitute an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.”

At some point after this, there was a draft of proposed changes.  It was not done, as is customary, with the entire commission being involved.  The Land Use Office was involved in this, along with Chairman Martin Overton.  This was likely done between November 2010 and June 2011.

The proposed changes to 7.5.10.I were:

Political Signs:  One or more signs, the total aggregate amount of signage per property not to exceed the greater of (i) 12 square feet, or (ii) the maximum aggregate amount of signage which would be allowed on the property under the regulations applicable to the district in which the property is located

There was a new legal opinion obtained on the proposed regulations, dated June 14, 2011, with one letter dealing solely with political signs. The second paragraph stated:

“If the Commission determines that it wishes to continue to have a “limit” on the amount of political signage on a property, this proposed revision is as defensible as any other regulation would be.  The Commission may want to review the Mansfield example that I provided previously as an alternative approach to the issue.”  Note that Mansfield removed political sign size restrictions.  A link is provided below:

http://www.acluct.org/aboutus/pressroom/100610mansfield.htm

In these proposed regulations, the proposed changes to 7.5.10.C allowed construction signage to be 24 sq. ft.

7.5.10.C: Construction/Repair Signs:  One non-illuminated, provisional sign for each contractor, each sign not to exceed four square feet, total aggregate signage not to exceed six signs or 24 square feet, provided it is removed upon the completion of work by that contractor or the property owner.

This contradicted the November 9, 2010 opinion which stated “In summary, regulations applicable to political signs should not be any more restrictive than they are for any other type of sign and the regulations must serve a demonstrable public interest in the narrowest manner possible.” 

The proposed regulations were passed out to the Zoning Commission at the very end of the September 13, 2011 meeting.  There had to be a motion to add the item because it was not on the agenda.  Overton passed out the proposed changes and almost immediately made a motion to go to public hearing on the regulations.  The only Zoning member who saw proposed changes before this time was Chairman Martin Overton.  

The Commission started the public hearing at the December 13, 2011 meeting with the Commission still having still not seen the legal opinion on the proposed changes up for public hearing.  In addition, the public hearing was scheduled without the required commentary back from the Council of Governments. 

The end result of all this is the Commission voted down the proposed changes in the January 11, 2012 meeting.  Both Chairman Overton and Vice Chairman Clarke left the room for the vote.  There is a requirement to fill out a form when a Commissioner recuses himself. 

The remaining Commission felt that the proposed regulations were not done properly and the process needed to be started over.  I suggest reading the minutes on this matter, focusing on pages 14 and 15. 

http://www.woodburyct.org/meetings/zoning/Zoning%20Minutes%201-10-12.pdf

It is also worth noting that the Woodbury Charter mandates officers be elected at the first calendar meeting of the year.  See Section 301 on page 9 of the link below. 

http://woodburyct.org/charter.pdf

Voice of Reason August 22, 2012 at 11:23 AM
I found it interesting. The other day I spoke with a gentleman that helped Betty Adams during her First Selectman campaigns back in the mid 80's. One of the things he helped with was painting 4'x8' campaign signs in her garage, then they erected said signs. Another gentleman at the same site recalled another earlier official that had the large signs but I was rushing to make an appointment and didn't that information. Now, after decades of townspeople erecting these larger signs it suddenly has become a violation? "Coincidentally" this happens after Tom Arras puts up his protest sign about Martin Overton and the way he runs the Zoning Commission. Tom Arras has also erected the larger size Political signs. As an aside, but somewhat related, to the sign issue. I've now seen some of the youtube videos that feature Martin Overton in action at meetings. I must say that I'm shocked at the way he conducts himself at times. Further, I can see some of the problems with Mr. Overton that Sean Murphy has mentioned and agree that Mr. Overton should resign his postion.
Sean M August 22, 2012 at 01:18 PM
My understanding is John Chamberlain figured out this regulation was passed in 1996.
Jon Quint August 22, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Let's see if the Democrats can take issue with Sean's facts. They never let facts get in the way of a good story.
joe_m August 23, 2012 at 12:52 PM
From the state Constitution: SEC. 4. Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty. SEC. 5. No law shall ever be passed to curtail or restrain the liberty of speech or of the press. I'm amazed that that some do not understand the term "NO LAW". A zoning regulation is a law, if violated, you can be fined or suffer other hardships like loss of property or jail. A really big sign is publishing. It also states on "all subjects", not just political free speech. Let's ignore the state Constitution, as we have in so many other ways. After all, it's a fluid document, we can use it or ignore it as we see fit. Much easier than doing the work to actually change it, if such change is actually justified. No law, no regulation, the Zoning Commission should drop any provisions on limiting political signs.
Sean M August 26, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Not one comment or remark from the Democrats in town nor from any of the letter writers asking for billboards to be banned. Where is George Hale? He is a selectman and would not address his letter at the Selectman's meeting.
tom arras August 28, 2012 at 05:36 PM
George is possibly out looking for the answers to all the questions that he refused to respond to on the sign issue at last week's Board of Selectmen meeting. It was really pretty pathetic that he signed such a letter in 2 papers, yet does not possess the spine to defend his written position. I hope the Democrats can find some one to replace him.
Voice of Reason August 28, 2012 at 08:08 PM
You mean Selectman Hale attended one of the Selectman meetings? I suppose that is at least a step in the right direction. VOR (Who believes in giving credit when its due) Sit Ubu Sit.

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