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Letter to the Editor: Sign Regulations Should Be Equal For All

The issue of political sign regulations in Woodbury represents a bigger issue that needs addressing, this Woodbury resident says.

To The Editor:

I wrote a acknowledging the fact that the current regulation regarding political signs, and perhaps more than that in the Zoning regulations, would not hold up in court and encouraging the community to speak out.

I was immediately and repeatedly told by a reply that I "did not know what I was talking about."

Just to be clear:I have read the Woodbury Zoning regulations pertaining to signsI have read the information available, the opinion of Attorney Roberts, his later letter, and the minutes of the Commission.

I have read the case law he refers to and have read a fair amount of additional information on the subject. I have read the Mansfield Zoning regulations, the ACLU press release, and the background to their issues, which had little relationship to Woodbury's issues.

I have read the few relevant published signage cases I could uncover in CT which no one has discussed.

In short, I believe I have covered just as much information to form my perspective as any one.  Because we differ in our obviously well researched, considered, and supported conclusions does not make me "disrespectful," nor should it make me the subject of anyone else's "disrespect." You can disagree with my position but I would appreciate if you would not disparage it. I have not done so to anyone.

Just a couple more points.

Attorney Roberts did not "advise doing what Mansfield did." In the June 14, 2011, memo, after saying that the proposed revision language (subsequently rejected by the WZC) "seems to satisfy the case law" and "this proposed revision is as defensible as any other regulation would be", he also suggests "review" of "the Mansfield example as an alternative approach". Unless he wrote another memo, that is far from advice for what "should" happen. It took about 35 years for Mansfield to resolve its issues and if you read their regs now, they're still not very clear.

Atty. Roberts also said in his first memo (Nov 2010) that "The desire to avoid the visual assault associated with an over-abundance of lawn signs is understandable, but the protections afforded to political speech make it a very complicated and uncertain question". He also said that "...there is little guidance on how Connecticut courts would evaluate the federal and state constitutional protections available to such signs."

Clearly Atty Roberts is not overstating his expertise or his advice. So why does anyone else believe they have cornered the market on State and Federal constitutional certainty?

There is no question that the courts, if you read the written opinions, acknowledge the ability of a community to concern itself with the aesthetics, visual clutter and corresponding economic impact to the community.Yes, there are several legs to test: virtually every core precedent acknowledges this. Yes, it takes a clear presentation and proof of legitimate state interest — like a consistent approach to maintaining a historic district as an economic attraction to the town and as integral to its economic welfare — which I, and apparently others, believe is demonstrable, consistent and compelling in Woodbury.

Limiting the size and number of signs was clearly upheld in a Maine case (Fed District Court) for exactly the reasons I gave and have been offered by others. And a CT case did the same to uphold size limitations of a political sign on private property, in disturbingly similar circumstance to Woodbury.

Yes, I do not favor excluding political signs from all restriction. I believe they should be treated equally as with all other signage.

Yes, there has been a lot of mis-quoting and mis-representing the situation in letters and postings. And way too much personal agenda getting in the way of solving the real problem.

Yes, I believe this issue has taken far too long and gone off the rails too many times.

Yes, I believe Mr Overton could have moved this along better.

Yes, I believe the other commissioners also have had several opportunities to move this along, with or without Mr. Overton. However, only Mr Overton's name keeps coming up and as far as I can determine, he has only one vote on the commission.

Truly, everyone has had a hand in making this worse than it should be.

Yes, I believe it is up to the Commission to determine a solution. They ran for the position, were elected, and now have to do their best to serve our community.

Yes, I believe that the Commission should be willing to listen to anyone in the community — to discover what is right about what they say, not just try to prove them wrong.

This is no longer just about Tom Arras' sign just as it's no longer a partisan political issue even though it began as such several years ago. (For the record, I'm a registered Republican with strong Libertarian leanings.)

In some respects, agree with the method or not, Tom has shined a light on a much bigger community issue that needs to be resolved. This is now about fixing the rules for everyone to play by in town, equally. Some believe that there should be no rules on this matter. Others think differently. My opinion is that there is room for finding a community solution that addresses consistent rules for all non-commercial signs and I want to encourage the members of this community to speak out.

Respectfully to all who post below, it is not productive to continue this here, but at least we should agree to disagree civilly.

Wayne Anderson, Woodbury

Sean M September 10, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Wayne is on the right track on this. It is clear he has read up on this. He is right on a few matters. 1. The current zoning regulations will not hold up in court. As they exist now, Woodbury restricts political speech more than commercial. Even after the proposed changes, the regulations will still violate this premise. Atty Roberts gave specific examples in the November 9, 2010 legal opinion. 2. If Wayne has case law that is CT based, he should share it. Please email it to the Land Use office and request it be forwarded immediately to the commission. I will gladly read it. 3. He is right on the "Substantial State Interest", but not correct on aesthetics being one of them. The only case law I have seen on political speech and signs on private property is the Shelton case on a Country Club holding concerts in a residential neighborhood. That case makes sense. You have the right to basically do what you want on your property. Having loud noise late at night will disturb the neighbors. Safety issues is another, but that can be enforced under other regulations (1.3.1.4) 4. The opposition on this, primarily the Democrat Town Committee, is setting up the notion that Woodbury should restrict political signs to the largest allowed in town. This brings up a bunch of questions: Which signs? Currently allowed? Grandfathered? How is it enforced? The Zoning Enforcement Officer (ZEO) cannot step on private property without a warrant.
Sean M September 10, 2012 at 06:56 PM
So how does the town know that there is too much political signage? Then there are other issues. Suppose you have a full slate and a resident wants one sign for each candidate they support. As Democrat Town Committee Chairman Lesa Peters stated in the December 2011 public hearing, the average political sign is about 3 sq. ft. In 2010, there were 10 contested races in Woodbury: Gov/Lt. Gov, Secretary of State, Atty General, Treasurer, Comptroller, US House, US Senate, State Rep, State Senate, and Probate Judge. Just on this, if a person used an average political sign, they would use 30 sq. ft. Then suppose as was pointed out by I believe Walt Henderson where they have a spouse of the opposing political party. Then you get other problems like a property that is set back from the road. Take Tom Arras for example, he owns a home on Main St. I believe his property does not go to the road. A small political sign may be hard to see from the street. His current Overturn Overton sign is about 32 sq. ft. It is very clear to read from the road. Would a smaller sign be as easy to read? Would it cause distractions? Surely. He is well known in town and people look to see what he is up to. These are just some of the issues that have come up in public hearings and zoning meetings I have attended. The ZEO is paid by the hour. Is having him deal with this a good use of Woodbury's resources?
Sean M September 10, 2012 at 06:59 PM
What has been the solution provided by the Democrats from the DTC? I have not seen any. Why should we always go to court? Why is the court responsible for dealing with legal issues? What are elected officials for? Wayne has clearly put some thought into this. I agree with some of his assessments of fact. I look forward to his response.
Sean M September 10, 2012 at 07:09 PM
What the residents of Woodbury need to understand is this whole current debate on political signs is a symptom of the much bigger problem with the Zoning Commission. Martin obtained the first legal opinion in November 9, 2010. He wrote a proposed change to the regulations without including the Zoning Commission. Then Overton obtains a legal opinion that he has admitted he hid from the public and commission. Then Overton hands-out the proposed changes that he was involved in writing without including the commission at the end of the September 2011 meeting and immediately made a motion to go to public hearing. The commission is made up of 5 full members and 3 alternates. Martin has run this commission as a dictatorship for some period of time. The debate on Patch and other media has happened because everyone is getting the same information. Once the Zoning Commission received the legal opinion on the proposed regulation changes, they released it immediately and voted down the proposed regulations to start over. Martin Overton attempted to ram through his agenda while keeping the commission in the dark. Overton has done a number of things that are not acceptable for years. This being the most recent.

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