Islanders to town: Restrain real estate signs

Broker Don Bindler put a red dot on every property currently listed for sale to show how many signs could be seen if the town lifts its real estate sign ban. During Friday’s public hearing, Mr. Bindler also presented a petition signed by 13 local brokers in opposition to the proposed sign legislation.

“We want to work out a solution that is acceptable to as manymembers of the community as possible, Town Supervisor Jim Doughertysaid as he opened the Friday, January 22 public hearing onlegislation to allow commercial real estate signs that arecurrently prohibited by the town.

The solution, voiced by many in an audience that included realestate brokers, residents and community leaders, was to find a wayto restrict as much as possible, if not ban outright, real estateand all other signs on Shelter Island’s residential properties.

The Town Board took no action Friday and indicated that theproposed law will be changed before a final version is adopted.

CURRENT LAW CAN’T STAND

The sign issue has been brewing for years. Some real estatebrokers argue that town rules restricting temporary signs to thosesaying only “For Sale or “For Rent by Owner interfere with theFirst Amendment rights of brokers and property owners. The issuecame to a head in 2009 when the Town Board authorized BuildingInspector William Banks to issue summonses to brokers who were notcomplying with the law.

Only one summons was issued at that time, to Penelope Moore ofCorcoran; her prosecution is pending in court. In defending thatcharge, Ms. Moore is asserting that the town restriction isunconstitutional, but no countersuit has been filed against thetown, according to both Town Attorney Laury Dowd and Ms. Moore’sattorney, Al D’Agostino.

At Friday’s hearing Ms. Dowd explained the town’s legalconstraints. In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a ban onreal estate signs in Willingboro, New Jersey, was unconstitutional.But the high court has sustained restrictions on just howcommercial speech may be presented. “Shelter Island is seeking todraft a law without reference to the content of a sign but withreasonable time, place and manner restrictions, Ms. Dowd said.

The proposed law defines real estate signs, limits the number toone per property, and restricts the size of the signs onresidential properties to 2 square feet and on commercial ones to 8square feet. Illuminating real estate signs is prohibited. Thedraft code does not restrict the content of the signs.

But even the proposed law needs work, Ms. Dowd acknowledged,because it treats real estate signs differently than othertemporary commercial signs. The town code allows temporarycommercial contractor signs on residential property; no changes arecurrently proposed to rules for them.

SPEAKERS OPPOSE SIGNS

Real estate broker Don Bindler presented a petition “signed bythe majority of the agencies that are on Shelter Island favoringsign limits. He also brought a visual aid to illustrate the impactof lifting the sign ban- a map of Shelter Island with a red dot forevery residential property that is currently listed on themarket.

The petition bears 13 signatures of brokers from M. Wein Realty,MVM Island Realty, Frederick L. Dinkel Real Estate, the GeorgianaB. Ketcham brokerage, Shelter Island Realty, Dering Harbor Realty,as well as individually licensed brokers.

Signs don’t sell properties, Mr. Bindler said. “Preserving thebeauty of Shelter Island, its quality of life and its uniquenessperhaps is the greatest asset we have in selling a home. Mr. Binderacknowledged that the existing ordinance “is probably not effectivelegislation and not enforceable but requested that it be revised torestrict signs as much as possible.

Tullia LiMarzi, a local broker, asked, “What about all the othersigns? Are you allowed to pass a law that applies to just oneparticular business?

Ms. Dowd said that while the law was tailored on those adoptedin other municipalities, most of them have adjusted their laws totreat all temporary commercial signs the same.

ALTERNATIVES SUGGESTED

Jean Brechter, who said she had worked as a broker in threestates, commented, “The need for signs … is really pass , it’sbeen taken over by the Internet.

Phil DiOrio echoed that point, adding that, unlike America in1977, when the Supreme Court ruled against a sign ban, “Not havingsigns isn’t robbing anyone of information these days. It’s readilyavailable to anyone with an Internet connection.

Marc Wein, husband of broker Melina Wein, acknowledged that theexisting law doesn’t hold up. Although he originally disagreed withallowing any signs, “It’s absolutely the law; there’s no reason totry to fight it, but he added, “The town has the absolute right todictate the size, position and duration of any sign that isplaced.

A law can be drafted that limits the impact of signage on thelandscape yet is legal and enforceable, he said, suggesting onefrom Palm Beach as an example. That municipality restricts the sizeof signs to a surface area no larger than 40 square inches (4inches by 10 inches). He also suggested requiring a registrationform, that includes owner permission and payment of a fee to coverenforcement costs, to post a sign.

“I think we can quietly let our businesses speak … if we wantto preserve our community and have freedom of speech, we can havetasteful and appropriately proportioned signs.

Tim Hogue, president of the Shelter Island Association, notedthat, if adopted, the draft code would allow two signs per propertybecause the amendment does not address contractor signs. “I thinkit’s sad … if you’re going to change the law, I recommend that itbe limited to one sign per property regardless of what’s on there.Proof of property owner permission should be required for any signsposted, he added.

ENFORCEMENT, LEGAL SHOWDOWN

Broker Hannah Dinkel raised concerns about enforcing the law andpaying for it. “I just think signage is a big problem, period …Are you willing to spend money to have signage policed?

Lisa Gilpin of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s asked that any law adoptedbe applied equally to the different real estate offices on theIsland. She also suggested that the town limit sign material to twoor three choices. “I think they can be beautifully done, tastefullydone and I think they can be small.

Businessman Sean McLean said, “I would like to see the 1977ruling challenged by Shelter Island, and a comparison of the numberof Internet hits versus how many prospective buyers a signattracts.

Mr. Dougherty said of the 1977 Supreme Court case, “It’s stillthe law of the land … it’s not an old fossil. It’s very muchalive and well. He added that the current Supreme Court has shownits support for the First Amendment rights of businesses – lastweek it lifted limits on political donations by corporations.

Paul Mobius suggested that the board use this opportunity torevisit the entire sign law and not just the part relating to realestate signs.

Mr. DiOrio painted a picture of an Island with signs in everyneighborhood. “Perhaps it’s time for the town to consider banningall commercial signs on residential properties, so that everyone istreated exactly the same and we can avoid the proliferation ofsigns on the Island, he concluded to a round of applause.

SIGN LAW TALK AT WORK SESSION

During Tuesday’s Town Board work session, board membersdiscussed possible changes to the proposed law. Mr. Dougherty saidthat although it was a good hearing, “People are still saying‹”Why don’t you prohibit it’? Legally the town can’tdo it, he said.

Councilwoman Chris Lewis commented that legislation may not bethe only way to reduce signage – perhaps the brokers can lean oneach other to refrain from posting signs.

Ms. Dowd provided a law from Babylon as an example and mostboard members expressed support for the suggestion that the size ofsigns be reduced.

The answer for the board may be to “limit signs as much as wecan without stepping on anyone’s Constitutional rights, Ms. Lewissaid.

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