Opponents speak on electronic messaging signs in Saugerties

A switch was flipped, a message came up on a demonstration sign, and a number of residents
started chanting “turn it down.” (photo by Robert Ford)

A number of town and village of Saugerties residents didn’t like what they saw when Frank Manzullo, a distributor with Surefire Sign, turned on what he said was a smaller version of the type of electronic messaging sign a local businessman wants to install in front of his Route 32 business.

Surefire Sign describes itself as “a globally recognized leader and innovator in LED signs, electronic message centers, and digital display system technologies.”


About ten town and village of Saugerties residents had turned out at the first public hearing of the town board to speak against the amendment, which would permit electronic messaging signs along routes  32, 212, 9W and Kings Highway.

Manzullo presented his demonstration on August 10 at the second of the two public hearings on the proposed sign-law amendment, at which about 30 residents turned out. After Manzullo flipped the switch on the sign, many audience embers weren’t liking what they saw. “Turn it down,” they said of the law to the town board.

More than a year ago, the owner of Ashley Homes Construction Company on Route 32 asked whether the town board would consider amending the sign law to permit electronic messaging signs similar to the one on Route 9W in Ulster.

The residents who don’t want these types of signs in the town have been accusing the town board of being willing to change town law without further consideration. Town supervisor Greg Helsmoortel fired back when a resident accused the board of not doing due diligence.

“You say you can come to us and we’ll change the law,” Helsmoortel said. “Yet we sent this to the CPC (community planning commission) for review, and they couldn’t decide [on it] and sent it back to us. If the CPC had come to us and said we do not want this, we would not be going forward on it.”

Arbela Colten, a resident of The Mill, said prior to Helsmoortel’s comments that she was against the proposed amendment for three reasons: They were distracting and dangerous for drivers. they were a concern for the long-term health of Saugerties tourism efforts since tourism is the bread-and-butter of Saugerties, and she just don’t want to look at them.

“This is a bad idea,” agreed village resident Nancy Campbell. “The whole purpose of these signs is to distract motorists.”

Distracting drivers was one of the main themes presented by those against the amendment. They were concerned drivers not paying attention to the road and paying attention to the signs would cause accidents.

Manzullo and John Hommel, owner of Ashley Homes, presented the town board with a letter from the Saugerties police chief Joseph Sinagra saying he supported Hommel’s request to install a digital sign at his place of business. “I believe this sign would benefit the Town of Saugerties in addition to Mr. Hommel’s business,” wrote Sinagra.

Sinagra said he believed such signs could alert drivers to emergency situations such as closed roads, traffic diversion for special events, and for amber alerts. “I submit to you that throughout Ulster County, including the neighboring town of Ulster, signs of this construct have been erected and have yet to be cited as cause to any motor vehicle-related crashes.”

Hommel also presented a letter from the Centerville-Cedar Grove Fire Company supporting the amendment. They could use such a sign to let residents know they are looking for members or when Fire Prevention Week is held or for open burn warnings.

Hommel would like to have such a sign because most people don’t even “know we are here.” He added his business has a number of billboard signs advertising his business that no one seems to take notice of, and “using just the billboards I am missing out on a lot of business.”

Dan Shuster, town planner speaking at the beginning of the meeting, said the town has received comments from the county planning board, as required on any projects on county or state highways. The suggested changes were distilled by Shuster.

Changing message signs could not be within 50 feet of a traffic light, could not be located with 500 feet of a similar sign in a 55 m.p.h. zone, or within 400 feet of a similar sign in a 45 m.p.h. zone. Further, while these types of signs would be permitted on existing billboards, they could not take up a space greater than 60 percent of the sign or 20 square feet, “whichever is less.” These signs must also stop the changing message and go to a solid sign from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

At the end of the public hearing, the members of the town board said they were unsure when they would make a decision on the proposed amendment.

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