Monday, June 7, 2010

The Inadequacy of the Sign Codes

There was an interesting sign application that came before the ARB not too long ago that I thought I’d share. I don’t usually write about the sign applications, mostly because they’re simple and straight forward and not too interesting……to me anyway. So the owner or operator of a place called “The Chicken Spot” on North Sea Road was seeking approval for the place’s sign, a multicolor and animated logo complete with chicken and text to be applied to the front window. (Side note: the sign was already up, see photo at top.) Anyway, three of five of the ARB members thought it wasn’t appropriate with the character of the village, but two of the five didn’t mind it, and one especially thought it was okay because of its location (you know, out there, away from the real village). The application was adjourned with the recommendation that the chicken come out and the whole thing be black and white which the owner ultimately did. But here’s the dilemma: The Chicken Spot is next to the meat shop, where the cow sculpture is out front, just north of the railroad tracks and south of Clam Man, on the west side of North Sea Road. You can imagine the comments and giggles that occurred during the hearing……the cow, the chicken, etc. Here’s the point: the owner (or applicant, or operator……I don’t know which, so I’m just going to call him the owner) was upset (but respectful) that the meat shop had such ‘loud’ advertising and he was being made to have an easily overlooked black and white logo. He felt that he needed something much more visibly noticeable to compete with his neighbor. Should he erect a big chicken sculpture and usurp the sign code completely? That seems to be a strategy many owners employ: Four Seasons with their tables and chairs everywhere; Lynch’s with their wagons and wheelbarrows spread across the lawn. The point is that the sign codes are inadequate, and at least one of the ARB members often asks when the board can propose amendments to the code to address this, only to be told that the public hearing is not the place and time in which to do so, resulting in the subject being brushed under the rug indefinitely. The same is true for other regulations (driveway lighting, balconies, pool equipment locations, etc.), but let’s stick with signs for now.
The ARB hasn’t been consistent with what they allow and don’t allow on signs (websites, logos, phone numbers, a combination of all of the above, etc.) but generally, they prefer signs that are simple, without logos, slogans, and too much miscellaneous language. (It’s even been suggested that only the general contractor and architect be able to display a sign in front of a project in progress, which I think would be appropriate. We don’t want every Tom, Dick, and Harry that works on any given house in the village to be able to advertise their services via a sign or we’ll have a whole lot of signs visually littering the entire community.) Anyway, one would never know the preferences of the ARB in relation to signs merely by reading the codes; they would have to sit in on ARB public hearings, or ask one of the two most widely used sign companies, to learn this which can’t be expected. The Village of Southampton needs better codes on many levels and in many places. But it’s up to us to ask for them, because the boards often don’t ask for them themselves, and when they do, there is often little follow through.

Currently, I am busy asking the Trustees to incorporate punitive consequences within our codes for those who demolish structures illegally. That is very important to me. But afterwards, perhaps we should start asking them to make all these other code modifications. How else will they know they are needed? While we’re at it, let’s suggest they just talk to each other a bit more.

You know, I keep saying “we” and “let’s” as I am constantly hoping to get a little help. Any takers?

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