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Sign debate delays vote on zoning changes

Signs collected from town property are piled up at the town’s highway department in late November. (submitted photo)

Signs collected from town property are piled up at the town’s highway department in late November. (submitted photo)

This year, the town stepped up enforcement of its policy to remove temporary signs on town property and right-of-ways. Town Attorney James Potter said as a practical matter, it’s difficult to get to all the signs that should be removed, which raises an entirely different issue.

“It is accurate to say that the town does try to clear signs off of town property now,” said Potter. “There is a heightened vigilance to that now, because you can not discriminate on the basis of the message. To allow one message means that we must allow all.”

During the public comment period of the board meeting, Fallon mentioned that many towns throughout the Capital District have addressed concerns over temporary signs.

One example is Guilderland, where town code states that “temporary signs up to 32 square feet in area advertising any educational, charitable, civic, professional, religious or like campaign or event may be erected on the issuance of a temporary permit for a period not to exceed 14 consecutive days prior to the event.” The permit is issued by the town’s chief building inspector and zoning coordinator.

Bethlehem board members briefly discussed what type of policy to adopt for signs and considered whether they could do so at the Dec. 14 meeting.

“Personally, I think we should just grant the 7-day window to any organization regardless of its merit,” said Hennessey. “It is free speech, when you come down to it.”

Potter, however, warned that attempting to adopt such a policy might classify as a substantial change to the zoning amendments put before the board, meaning that another public hearing would likely need to be held.

After nearly 30 minutes of debate, the board, in a 3-2 vote, agreed to table all of the zoning amendments and subdivision regulations. Hennessey, Joann Dawson and Mark Jordan voted to table the motion; Kyle Kotary and Messina voted against tabling it.

Although unresolved, Fallon was pleased that the issue has the board’s attention.

“I’m glad that they heard what we were saying and that there is support among Town Board members to look at this issue,” said Fallon.

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