Saugerties considers allowing light-up message signs on major roadways

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind.

A handful of town of Saugerties residents believe the Five Man Electrical Band got it right. They worry that an amendment to the sign law under consideration will obstruct, the scenery along routes 9W, 212, and 32 with electronic messaging signs.

Barry Benepe, a member of the town’s comprehensive plan commission told the town board at a July 26 public hearing that the town could look like Times Square if the change passes.


The town board argued that new billboards are banned from town roads, and that electronic signs could only be added to existing billboards or placed in front of individual businesses.

Several months ago, a local businessman came to the town board to ask for an electronic messaging sign in front of his business that would advertising his business.

The town board passed the request on to the comprehensive planning commission, asking whether amending the sign law to allow electronic messaging signs would be in keeping with the town’s master plan adopted in 1999. Debating the issue over several months the commission couldn’t reach a consensus, said town supervisor Greg Helsmoortel. The matter was sent back to the town board.

To give residents a chance for input, the town board held a public hearing on July 26. A second hearing has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on August 10 at the senior center on Market Street.

“The intention of this law is not to add to the billboards in the town but to advertise local businesses,” said councilman Fred Costello.

Helsmoortel explained that the proposed law amendment would allow Costello, who owns Sue’s Restaurant on Route 9W, to advertise his daily specials on an electronic moving sign in front of the business if he wanted to.

Samantha Dederick, a member of the comprehensive planning commission, said the amendment would also allow the owners of existing billboards to use a portion of existing billboards for electronic messaging signs.

Critics of the amendment said there was no need for these types of signs. Josepha Gutelius, a commission member who opposed the amending of the law, said it went  against the comprehensive plan. “The sign law is to keep from disturbing and adversely affecting traffic,” she said. “Allowing electronic signs would distract traffic. Imagine dozens of signs along 9W, 212 and 32.”

The only people that would benefit from the signs, said village of Saugerties resident Penelope Milford, would be the large media companies that own the billboards. Local attorney Lanny Walter was against the amendment,  saying he “doesn’t think we should invite this type of distraction into the town.”

Samantha and Robert Dederick spoke in favor of the amendment, saying there was no evidence that these types of signs distract drivers. Such signs could be an effective tool for local businesses to advertise their services, she argued.

The county planning board weighed in because the proposal would affect county roads. County planning board members said they were “supportive of the proposed law,” and suggested a number of standards for them.

Based on its experience with these types of signs, there is one on Route 9W in the town of Ulster, the county board recommended that “no scrolling, fading or animation” be allowed. They wanted all changing messages to be instant. They also recommended there be no flashing messages, that none of the signs be temporary, and that there be only one sign per business.

There is a sign of the kind under discussion on Route 9W in the Town of Ulster.

Helsmoortel invited residents to give their input on the amendment at the August 10 meeting. “We’re doing this in an open manner,” the supervisor said.

There is one comment

  1. Richard Frisbie

    #1 – I believe a Master Plan created in 1999 needs to be updated. These electronic signs did not exist then. I believe that when it is updated we will find that:
    #2 – Saugerties has a lot invested in its historic rural image, an investment that has paid off handsomely over the years. (Think Lighthouse, Kiersted House, HITS, Opus 40, Cantine Field) The proposed electronic signs are not in keeping with that image.
    #3 – The quality of life in Saugerties will be degraded by the addition of electronic signs and billboards – potentially in front of every business throughout the Town.
    #4 – The unstudied safety factor – are the signs distracting drivers? – does not mean they are safe. It is unknown. It would be foolhardy for the Town Board to approve something that is a potential hazard to citizens.
    #5 – Gateway overlays at the entrances to the Town are designed to beautify approaches to Saugerties. Electronic signs are not conceived as part of that beautification.

    Right now businesses have the potential to notify everyone with a cell phone in proximity of their business whatever message they wish to convey. Most people have cell phones – there are probably more than there are drivers. With them we can opt in and opt out of advertising campaigns. Businesses would be targeting interested customers using that technology, not blasting garish light pollution at everyone passing by. Please don’t make them legal.

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