Regrettably, here we go again. During these dark winter days it has been impossible for us to miss the proliferation of lighted “open” signs at businesses along the roads. Without much else to draw the eye at this time of year, they grab our attention as we drive by; this is the point, but they are also illegal.
The signs have begun to appear more often lately, despite their being prohibited by both East Hampton Town and Village law. Along Pantigo Road, one advertises the New York Lottery and several brands of beer. On Railroad Avenue, another in light purple and yellow tells us helpfully that a sandwich shop is ready to serve. Clearly this is, to use the cliché, a slippery slope. If unchecked, it is easy to see where this will lead: more and bigger signs taking away the once mom-and-pop charm of the area’s retail centers.
Enforcement of these most basic prohibitions is perplexingly absent. The sign laws have been on the books for decades, part of a corpus of rules that elected officials promise to follow. But, if town and village boards want to change them for whatever reason, there are procedures for that. However, allowing code enforcement officers to overlook these violations, or, worse, ordering them to, is a thumb in the eye of other local regulations. It also points to an imbalance between commercial interests and those of residents. Even though many business operators are from out of town, it seems sometimes that they are the ones to whom elected officials answer, not the voters. Signs are a sign of that.
There are, of course, other problems with signs, such as the ones posted by contractors that exceed the allowed size limit, are on display for too long, or too many, but they are a separate issue. Fundamentally, though, they are similar in that they are for the most part unenforced.
Going into an important election in East Hampton Town, we think the sign problem should be a political issue, with candidates compelled to state a position. It may seem a small thing to complain about seeing illuminated messages while passing by, but the law is the law. There are mechanisms for changing the rules. Failing that, it is important for all board members, regardless of their personal sympathies, to enforce them.