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Zoning Commission Extends Proposed Regulation Public Hearing [POLL]

Political signs generated strong opinions for and against the draft language.

 

A Zoning Commission public hearing on proposed zoning regulation changes will resume at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012, at the Shove Conference Room.

The proposed changes can be found on the town of Woodbury's land use page under "Draft of proposed zoning regulation changes" or in the town . The proposed draft regulations are attached to this article in PDF form.

The two issues brought up the most at the Tuesday, Dec. 13, Zoning Commission meeting were the proposed changes to the regulations regarding signs and a letter from the town attorney on a legal opinion regarding the present sign regulations and whether they violate free speech.

Zoning Commission Chairman Martin Overton said he is certain that after the public hearing closes, the language in the proposed regulations will change.

"This is not the end," he said. "It's the core. The end of the process is when everyone around the table agrees that we're done."

 Any substantive changes will cause the revision process to begin again, said Overton.

Planning Commission member Jane Sandulli asked if the draft regulations will come back if changes are made. Overton said if any changes are substantive, they will be brought before the Planning Commission.

Selectman Barbara Perkinson advocated bringing any new changes to the proposed regulations before the public again at a public hearing.

She paraphrased a statement made earlier in the evening by resident Bill Butterly: What is insubstantial to the commission may not be insubstantial to townspeople.

Regarding the letter from the town attorney, Overton said he will not release the letter to commissioners unless that is done in executive session. He cited the letter as being private due to attorney-client privilege.

If given to the commissioners at a public meeting, the letter then becomes part of the public record, Overton said.

That executive session was scheduled for the January 10 meeting.

Zoning Commission Alternate Sean Murphy said he wants to see the letter as he feels the legal opinion will provide information that may help the commissioners render a decision on the proposed regulation changes.

Overton said he agreed with Murphy.

"He and [Zoning Commission alternate] John [Chamberlain] and anyone else are entitled to look, since they were not on the commission then," said Overton. "Some may feel it [the attorney's opinion] should be released."

Adding another layer to the situation with the letter, Woodbury resident Art McNally filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission as he said he filed numerous freedom of information, or FOI, requests, and was never provided with a copy of the letter.

An FOI hearing is scheduled to take place at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, in Hearing Room A, 18-20 Trinity St., Hartford. The hearing is open to the public.

"Several times you've stated, since June, you have a letter stating the new regulations as drafted are constitutional, which you have refused to release to the commission's members or the public," said McNally.

McNally said he wants to see the subject of political signs removed from the zoning regulations entirely.

Tom Arras said he does not feel the Zoning Commission has the right to regulate political signs. His property has been the subject of notices of possible violation of the zoning regulations as they pertain to signs.

Presently, the zoning regulations pertaining to political signs allow for one or more signs, with the total aggregate amount of signage per property not to exceed 12 square feet.

The proposed change to that section reads: "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."

The italicized, bold section represents new language.

Adele Taylor said she does not see what constitutional rights are violated by the 12 square foot regulation.

"It seems to me that 12 square feet of signage in the last election was perfectly adequate for the expression of anyone's opinion," said Taylor. "If 12 square feet was not sufficient to enable people to express their opinion, how many square feet do you need?"

She said she wants to see Main Street sign-free for at least a couple of months.

"Let's restore civility to our Main Street," said Taylor.

Murphy mentioned a sign on Arras' property that notes Arras' displeasure with Overton. The sign reads "Overturn Overton" and "Restore Civility."

Arras' sign indicates displeasure with something that is not related to an election, Murphy said. He asked what avenues Arras has available to relay his opinion, if the town were to be sign-free for a length of time.

Taylor suggested letters to the editor and stating opinions at meetings.

Arras said if people do not like his sign, they do not have to look at it. He said when Overton was running for selectman, the signs outside his headquarters exceeded the 12 square foot rule outlined in the regulations.

"I have no problem with that; that's your right," he said, adding that he is in favor of allowing people to exceed 12 square feet of signs on their property.

Lesa Peters said the proposed regulation changes are not restrictive when it comes to signs.

"Im sure we've all driven though areas that are littered by signs," she said. "It's ugly."

Peters said people do not need to have the biggest sign in order to get their opinion out there.

"It's ugly during the most prime leaf peeping season when you're trying to attract tourists," she said.

Susan Cheatham asked a question as a member of the Historic District Commission.

"What role does the fact that townspeople have chosen to have a Historic District on Main Street -- what role, if any, does that play?" she asked.

Overton said that strictly speaking, the land use regulations are not subject to the Historic District regulations.

Lastly, Carol Bacon asked about the January meeting and how residents will be reminded that it is taking place.

Showing how land use meetings are not boring, Taylor piped up and jokingly offered a suggestion.

"Why don't we have a sign?" she said, to which the audience responded with laughter.

Bill Butterly December 15, 2011 at 12:12 PM
Re:(Neon) lighting of political signs as a "free speech"issue presented at the hearing Tuesday: Your right to free speech ends when it illuminates your neighbors bedroom, thereby preventing his right to a good night sleep.
Bob December 16, 2011 at 05:48 PM
I have no problem with political signs and the 12 feet sounds very reasonable to me. I do however feel that the signs should be temporary. I would like to see the Overturn Overton sign removed. Everyone in town knows that person's feelings for Overton, now it just makes the Main street look trashy. without serving a purpose.
Sean M December 17, 2011 at 04:13 AM
Martin Overton did not even bother to attend the FOI hearing. @Bob, the town attorney already stated in a November 2010 opinion that a town cannot regulate political signs more than any other sign. This is settled case law. The proposed regulations violate this by allowing more sq ft of contractor signs. I suggest looking up case law from the ACLU on political signs. You might learn something.
Bob December 19, 2011 at 04:31 PM
Can't a town decide what is in its historic character and make laws based on that? If you can't change the outside of a historic building due to the historical character, can't you say that permanant political signs violate the historical character?
Sean M January 08, 2012 at 05:19 AM
According to the town atty for Woodbury, the town cannot tell a resident to take down a sign because others find it ugly. Free speech is a right granted under the Constitution, both federal and state. There is numerous case law and any competent constitutional scholar will tell you the same. This issue is far beyond Tom Arras. Numerous Democrats complained about Tom yet did not complain about Woodbury First nor did the Democrat Town Committee follow the policy it advocates.

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