Signage for businesses is changing as fast as technology, but the ordinance that regulates how they’re used in the Town of New Paltz hasn’t been updated to keep pace, building inspector Stacy Delarede told town Planning Board members during their April 25 workshop meeting. More of a problem than the law not even referencing such things as LED signs is the fact that the bulk of it was rendered illegal in a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States.
As reported in the New Paltz Times last June, local sign ordinances throughout the country were rendered moot by the decision Reed v Town of Gilbert, in which the justices determined that ordinances cannot lay out different requirements for signage based on the content of those signs, as that is a violation of free-speech protections. A survey of local sign ordinances suggested that none were in compliance with the ruling at that time.
“Our law is filled with things it cannot be filled with,” Delarede said, and changing it “will take some time.” For example, restricting digital signs for gas stations only is no longer okay, nor is giving different rules when the sign is promoting a not-for-profit organization rather than a for-profit business. Political signs in the present code may only be displayed for a set period of time, but that’s also a content-based test, which must be changed.
It’s digital signs, however, that Delarede would most like to see included in a new sign ordinance, because she gets requests that she must turn down because the current law has no room for them in the town. “They do not meet the code on interior illumination,” she explained, which is the definition that they fit under. The building inspector told board members that she’s aware that digital signs are different: “It’s not really internally lit,” she said. “The sign is the light bulbs.”
The first local example of a digital sign that is usually brought up in conversation is that for the auto shop on Route 299 in Lloyd, and that’s what happened at this Planning Board meeting, as well. “That one is awful,” said board member Adele Ruger. The same sign led a village Planning Board member to once compare 299 to “the Vegas strip,” and was the impetus for an updated sign ordinance in Lloyd itself.
Regulation of digital signs is largely based on how distracting they are to drivers. The amount of color, the frequency of message changes, whether and how moving images are included in the display, all could factor into how they are regulated in New Paltz. Board members also spoke about brightness and the proportion of white bulbs (which appear brighter) as a possible criterion. The only digital signs Delarede could point to within town lines are one at Stewart’s and another at the high school. The convenience store is subject to village code and enforcement, and the school district is exempt for the town rules, which is why that sign is even possible.
“At what point does a sign become a video?” asked Lyle Nolan.
Chairman Calimano replied, “If you don’t define it, it becomes that.”