Sign law discussion takes a turn

Town to address signs on private property, not public lands

— Members of Bethlehem’s Department of Economic Development and Planning have agreed to draft new language regarding temporary signs on private property to add clarity to the existing law.

At the Town Board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 8, Economic Development and Planning Director Michael Morelli said the new language would include specific dimensions for signs and the duration they can be displayed. The board did not discuss whether any language changes would be made to current zoning laws concerning signs placed on town property.

According to current zoning law, “no signs can be placed in the town right-of-way,” even on county and state roads within the town. “Political signs and similar signs” can be placed on private property.

Some deemed the language too vague, which resulted in the proposed clarification for signs on private property.

“We really can’t allow for much discretion on the part of the building inspector in terms of deciding on his own sort of subjectively which signs are OK and which aren’t,” said Councilman Jeffrey Kuhn, explaining the town cannot constitutionally discriminate between signs based on content. “We really have to have objective criteria.”

Regarding temporary not-for-profit signs on town property, Kuhn argued that if they were allowed, every type of sign would need to be allowed – including those of a political nature.

“There’s really no way for us to give these non-profit signs greater rights than really any other kind of sign,” he said.

The issue was first discussed at a Dec. 14 meeting when the latest packet of amendments to the Bethlehem’s Zoning Law and Subdivision Regulations did not include verbiage on temporary signs. Members of some not-for-profit groups were concerned signs they believed to be permissible were being taken down.

Councilman Kyle Kotary noted at Wednesday’s meeting some residents will still react when they see signs in certain areas, questioning if signs are allowed on state and county roads. However, the zoning law applies to all property in the town, even state- and county-owned property.

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