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Letter to the Editor: Zoning Commission Chair Discusses Sign Regulations

Woodbury Zoning Commission Chairman Martin Overton authored this letter to the editor.

To the Editor:

I am encouraged by the discussion concerning the Woodbury Zoning Commission’s upcoming public hearing on regulation revisions which will include, among many others, a wording change to the maximum allowable aggregate sign area for political signs.

Unfortunately, too much of the debate has become political, and largely unhelpful, rhetoric.

Some examples of sign regulations challenges have been offered to the commission in support of a demand by a very small number of people to repeal Woodbury Zoning Regulation 7.5.10.1 -- Political Signs.

However, of particular note is that the references to rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court -- and the several others that I have reviewed -- refer to the court’s very narrow and specific decisions in the referenced cases.

For this reason you will not find that the court made any broad ruling providing that, under the First Amendment, a municipality has no control over political signs.

Rather, the opposite is true: The court has issued many narrow opinions in a clear attempt to frame a manner of reasonable 'control' over political signs. In fact, the court has repeatedly acknowledged that a community has the right to control signage, including political signs, if there is a compelling interest, such as the town’s appearance: such as in historical districts, safety: such as a distraction to drivers, or general public nuisance.  

As , the town of Mansfield amended its sign regulations as the result of a complaint by a resident who happened to be member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

However, with all due respect to the townsfolk of Mansfield, if the ACLU has a major issue with the constitutionality of regulated political signs it would not have chosen Mansfield, Conn. as its test case.

It is not, and will not, be the commission’s place to regulate the content of signs, political or otherwise. What you put on your sign is up to you -- in poor taste or not.

I apologize if some people think that taking this position reflects arrogance on my part but I take the Constitution -- including its inherent separation of powers -- as well as my oath to the people of Woodbury, seriously.

Finally, I wish to thank Tom Arras for the publicity he has provided to my candidacy for selectman, without which many folks in town would not know to whom the "Overton" on the sign on his lawn referred.

Martin Overton
Woodbury Zoning Commission Chairman

Pat Kazmierski November 01, 2011 at 06:19 PM
That's true. Someone told me that they thought the Overton sign was an endorsement of his candidacy. They hadn't heard of him before.
John Chamberlain November 07, 2011 at 02:17 AM
I am a candidate for Alternate on the Zoning Commission in Woodbury. The Zoning Regulations are at the heart of how we treat our Town, our neighbors and future generations. They are too important to be voted on only by the Commission, where a bare majority of three is sufficient. The Regulations should be amended to require them to be adopted at a Town meeting. Currently, when subjected to “separation of powers” analysis, the entire basis of the Commission is obscure. The legislative, executive and judicial powers are all jumbled together. It is not clear how amendments can and should be proposed. The procedures of the Commission are not clearly laid down; even the rules for the conduct of meetings are not clear. Changes have recently been proposed, which will shortly go to a Public Hearing that allows the community to express its views on the proposals, but not to vote on them. For the past thirty odd years, I have worked with the constitutional documents of a member owned company. I am used to formal processes, with clear procedures, clear explanations of why changes are recommended and why others are not. Only by such a process can transparency in our democracy be preserved. The procedure is not quick – it involves a lot of discussion. Democracy is about discussion and reconciling competing views. It is messy, it is frustrating, it is hard work, and it requires constant vigilance. It is called Freedom, and is the foundation of our way of life.
Sean M November 17, 2011 at 04:58 AM
I wonder if Martin Overton is thanking Tom Arras after getting 309 votes. Overton is not telling the truth and he has a legal opinion that clearly states the local regulations are not constitutional. The legal opinion states that Woodbury cannot regulate political signs more than any other and the regulations do that.

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