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:
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.
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.