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Time to Take Builders’ Ads Off the Roadsides

Wed, 05/26/2021 - 19:44


Readers of this newspaper may know that we have a thing about signs. The South Fork villages and East Hampton Town have fairly rigorous laws regulating their size, placement, and illumination. So-called temporary signs come under special scrutiny over how long they may remain in place in the public view, and so on, but this is rarely enforced. Consider contractors’ signs.

There is a practice that builders would put out something on the roadsides to indicate to subcontractors where to go. No one wanted a giant load of framing lumber to be dropped at the wrong property, that sort of thing. As time went along, these signs grew in size and finish; these days, there often are meticulously crafted and finished objects, attesting to the contractor’s skill as much as job site location. As with many things, they have gotten bigger — and stayed up longer and longer. A pair of signs on one Amagansett road, nowhere near the property driveway, which is around the corner, mind you, have been there going on their second summer — a clear violation.

This Amagansett pair of lingerers  and plenty of other examples underscore the difficulty of enforcement. The town has only so many code officers, and they are busy with health, safety, and occupancy complaints. A permit system for signs would be unwieldy; Town Hall staff are already up to their necks in paperwork. And let’s be honest, after a few years, the requirement would be forgotten about and things would go back to the way they were.

More than a generation ago, citizens, led by the Ladies Village Improvement Society of East Hampton, were able to pressure elected officials to ban billboards. Old photographs show various commercial messages coming down, for example, along the scenic Napeague stretch on Montauk Highway. These days, big local building companies get a bit more deference than perhaps they should. Many in local government have friends or family or even moonlight in the business. In fact, before he was a politician, the East Hampton Town supervisor himself was a builder. The East Hampton Village mayor owns a successful estate-security company, and the mayor before him was a house watcher. Publications like ours are kept afloat on a sea of real estate spending. It’s a company town, really, but once upon a time, the South Fork economy was a lot more diversified than it is today; nowadays, far more workers are tied to the resort, landscape, and vacation-home trades. Still, the signs have got to go.

The argument that they are necessary so the subs and delivery people can find the job site has been made moot, thanks to location-enabled cellphones. No one even uses a paper map anymore, since these amazing little devices can tell them where to go with nearly square-foot accuracy. Lumping them all into a general category of contractors’ signs, they are nothing more than billboards, small ones at that, but unmistakably advertising — something that long ago this town said it did not want.

We get it: This is a town board election year, and no one in the running wants to risk angering the trades, but let’s put it on the agenda for after November. Contractors’ roadside signs are obsolete, thanks to technology. There is no excuse for them on our roadsides anymore.


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