Stony Point Sign Law brings up freedom of speech, equal enforcement concerns

Stony Point Town Board votes 4-1 to approve the new law

President of Stony Point Action Committee for the Environment (Space)

In an effort to curb the increasing clutter of lawn signs and political campaign signs that have become larger and more numerous during each election season, the Stony Point Town Board voted on Tuesday, July 10 to approve amendments to the town sign law which require permits and limits on sign size, location and length of time – with fees of up to $350 per day and jail time for violators.

The new law prohibits temporary signs from being placed on any town property or right of ways. As with the old law, signs may not be posted on trees, telephone polls, rocks, bridges, fences and traffic signs. Political candidates running for office must still apply for a permit, post a security deposit of $250 and homeowners are limited to only one sign per candidate. Lawn signs do provide a least expensive form of advertising for candidates.

Under the old law, the posting of a deposit has worked well to ensure that all signs are retrieved within days after the election. However, limiting the signs to only private property under the new law may also significantly limit awareness by voters of pending elections and names of candidates – especially for school board and budget elections.

While reasonable limits on posting of signs may be a good idea, it also raises issues of freedom of speech and whether or not the town has the right to limit which signs and how many you may place on your private property. As written, there is no provision within the new sign law for expressing a political opinion or other forms of protest protected by free speech.

What if you wanted to place a “Stop the War” sign or a “Go Giants” sign or a quote from the Bible on your front lawn? Should the town government be able to require you to apply for a permit, charge you a fee and place a time limit on how long you can place the sign in your own yard?

Under the new sign law, garage sale signs are exempt from requiring a permit but limited to the owner’s yard and for period not exceeding seven days. Garage sale signs have been a source of litter because people never removed their signs after the sale.

The old law prohibited signs from being posted on utility poles but was never enforced by the town. The new law allows for temporary home “for sale” or “for rent” signs, but these must be removed within three days of the sale or rental. Real estate open house signs can remain only for the day of the open house with longer periods of time requiring a permit. No permit is required for contractor signs on premises where construction, renovation or repair is in progress.

Under the new law, non-profits, religious organizations and charities are exempt from the requirement for a permit or fee but not from the regulations of the law. Under the new law, any signs for charitable fundraisers and community events are also prohibited from being posted on town property and rights of ways.

This will prevent community fundraisers and church bazaars from publicizing their events on a sign along public streets – a very effective and least expensive form of advertising a charitable or non-profit community event.

While SPACE understands the town’s good intentions behind adoption of the amended Town of Stony Point Sign Law (Article IX), we are very concerned that some provisions within the new sign law are excessive, unnecessary and not well considered. It may limit voter awareness and participation in local elections, could limit fundraising ability for charities and non-profits and could lead to unequal enforcement of the law – unfairly singling out signs of political opponents or of unpopular opinions, while selectively turning a blind eye to others more favorable.

We expect our elected officials to not only read the law but understand its consequences. By attempting to regulate non-commercial, temporary signs and “political speech” based on content, they are clearly violating citizen freedoms protected by the First Amendment of the United Sates Constitution, which they have taken an oath to uphold.

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