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Time Has Come to Ban Most Signs

Wed, 12/14/2022 - 11:07


East Hampton Town has an advertising problem. All along its roadways, illegal signs are everywhere. This must change. If there is enforcement of the longstanding section of the town code regulating signs, it is minimal, at best. Consequently, emboldened real estate companies, builders, and subcontractors now put up ever-larger and more numerous examples. Those in the know, know the town code in this matter is a joke. We wonder if there will be a day when officials no longer ignore the signs; so far, it has not come.

Oddly, in one sense the East Hampton Town rules on temporary roadside signs are clear enough — they can be up to six square feet in size and no more. An ordinance enforcer able to read a tape measure should, in theory, be able to make note of violations with ease. As far as we can tell, they do not. Striking, too, is the fact that Building Department staff members are required to visit construction sites as part of their rounds, many times passing signs clearly larger than what is allowed.

In addition, no more than one sign can be set out, unless a property fronts on two or more roads, on which another single sign would be allowed on each. (At the moment, one construction site on Montauk Highway has eight separate signs on view.) And here’s a part of the law we bet few people know: All real estate and construction signs must be set perpendicular to the property line. Again, one would think this basic geometry would be easy to calculate.

It is obvious that some town employees are not doing what their jobs require; why they are not remains speculative. Are some kind of disincentives involved? The town’s consistent failure to apply this part of its own law could lead an impartial observer to wonder what else the inspectors let slide.

Several other sections of the town’s hodgepodge sign laws are too difficult to enforce — how long they are allowed to be displayed, for one. Under no circumstances can a sign be left in place for more than a year, but because no permits are required, start dates are not recorded. They are supposed to be removed when a property is sold, rented, or has a certificate of occupancy for completed construction. The implication of this is that town staff would need to go around recording when and where new signs are placed, as well as know when jobs are completed or sales closed — a practically insurmountable burden.

Another almost impossible challenge related to the lack of a permit process is that temporary real estate and construction signs are not allowed on publicly owned roadsides and must be placed actually within the metes and bounds of the property in question. Without signs depicted on professionally prepared surveys, there is no obvious way for enforcers, even if they wanted to, to seek compliance. Separately, so-called special-event signs can be erected up to seven days prior, so long as the signs themselves were part of an approved town permit, but no one is counting — or seems to care.

State courts have found that real estate and political signs are special cases and generally permissible, but can be regulated for size. With that caveat and when considered together, the shortcomings of the sign law and the ongoing refusal of East Hampton Town leaders to see that the easy-math square-foot and numerical limits are followed tells us that drastic changes are necessary — banning all other roadside signs altogether.


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