Town backs off sign case

Penelope Moore questioned the town’s sign law during the July 28, 2009 work session. Weeks later she was charged with violation of the law for erecting this brochure stand on Winthrop Road. The town dropped the charges against her last week.

The “People of Shelter Island are no longer prosecuting realestate broker Penelope Moore for posting a commercial brochurestand.

In a letter filed with the Shelter Island Justice Court onFebruary 5, Town Attorney Laury Dowd asked for dismissal of thecriminal case in light of the town’s efforts to change the law thatwas allegedly violated.

“The People respectfully request dismissal of the above actionin the interests of justice, she wrote. “This action involvesenforcement of a temporary sign law. The Town Board is in theprocess of revising that law, and the People do not wish to pursueviolations of the prior law.

Building Inspector William Banks issued a summons to Ms. Mooreat the end of September for erecting a brochure stand at a WinthropRoad residence.

He charged Ms. Moore with violation of Chapter 133, section27-B6 of the town zoning code, which allows only “For Sale or “ForRent by owner signs, tacitly prohibiting commercial real estatesigns.

In response to the dismissal, Ms. Moore stated: “I am happy thatas a result of my pleading not guilty to an ordinance that is inits present state unconstitutional, selective and grammaticallyambiguous, the town has decided to revise the sign ordinancepertaining to real estate agents.

In July, Mr. Banks had sent letters to brokers warning thatposting brochure stands and signs on Island properties was inviolation of the law. That prompted brokers, both for and againstcommercial signs, to speak out during a Town Board worksession.

Some brokers complained that a commercial sign ban interferedwith freedom of speech rights. At a later work session, TownSupervisor Jim Dougherty said, “We have a law on the books¦ Let’s enforce it, and invited comment onimprovements to the law.

At the end of 2009, the Town Board began revising the temporarysign law to eliminate any restriction of the content of a sign.Proposed changes to the law were subject to a public hearing onJanuary 22, with some residents continuing to call for a ban on allcommercial signs in residential areas. But Mr. Dougherty emphasizedthat Supreme Court precedent dictated that a real estate sign banwould be unconstitutional.

The board debated a revised law in December and January but itdid not halt the prosecution of Ms. Moore, despite requests to doso, until early February.

The case has been pending in Town Justice Court for months withlittle action. During the court’s January 11 session, it adjournedthe case until March 8. A motion to transfer the case to anoff-Island court was never decided.

In a written statement responding to the dismissal, Ms. Moorehad much to say about her fellow Island real estate brokers. “Theopposition from the real estate brokerage community against realestate signs is unfortunately less about the aesthetic beauty ofthe Island than it is competition in the profession in uncertaintimes. She implied that one particular unnamed broker announced atan open house hosted by Ms. Moore that she intended to initiate acode enforcement action against the Corcoran agent.

“At hearings and in letters, agents repeatedly mention theË”new agency’ or the Ë”big agency,’ Ms. Moorewrote. “Real estate agents are independent contractors, notemployees, who work under the aegis of a broker/agency – who bringto the profession their own skills and approach to real estate.There are small real estate agencies that have good agents andthere are larger agencies that have good agents. From the looks oftransfers on Shelter Island over the last few months, there isenough business to go around.

The Town Board continues to revise the temporary sign law.Changes discussed include treating all commercial signs equally andfurther limiting the size of signs. A revised law will likely go toanother public hearing.

Town Attorney Dowd did not respond to Reporter inquiries aboutthe dismissal; she was attending the Association of Towns meetingin Manhattan this week.