Vernon Township Council wrestles with troublesome sign ordinance

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:52

    VERNON-All the signs pointed to trouble at Monday night's Vernon Township Council meeting - literally. In a session that was otherwise low key, the council got into a lengthy debate about the town's sign ordinance, particularly as it applies to banners put up on the corner of Routes 94 and 515 by non-profit organizations. It ultimately decided the ordinance needs to go back to the planning board to be reworked. For years, two metal poles on the property of Terry Huber's auto repair business on the intersection's northwest corner have been used by local charities to advertise upcoming fundraising events. Although the existing sign ordinance does not allow such banners, the township's unwritten policy had been to allow them as a public service. But, according to Township Manager Don Teolis, what had been a service has recently become a headache. The position is so popular and there are so many groups that want access to it, his office and that of the town zoning officer, who issues permits for signs, came under virtual siege. Because not all signs could be accomodated, some people who couldn't get access to the poles wanted to know, "Why does this guy have more rights than I do? Why does he get it and I don't?" Teolis said. "We were caught up in bickering among applicants." Frustrated, Teolis finally decided to enforce the law, which says that advertising signs - even for non-profits - can be hung on private property only by the owner of the property and only if that owner has a direct involvement with the product being advertised. The sign that got knocked off the poles was one advertising a fundraising event for the local Ski Patrol. The banner eventually went up, but it took intervention by elected officials both with Huber and with Teolis and the zoning officer. Huber, officials said, got so fed up he decided no one could use his poles and had to be talked into relenting by Deputy Mayor Janet Morrison, whose intervention also allowed the Ski Patrol to put its banner up. But the episode convinced the council that the sign ordinance needs revision. Now, signs are regulated solely by the zoning officer or the town manager. The council felt that opens the door to arbitrary enforcement. It also felt strongly that non-profit organizations should be allowed to advertise their events. But some members also expressed concern that, while advertising an event, some groups use signs provided by beer companies that also advertise a product. Another issue is political signs. The current ordinance says that they can't be more than four square feet in area, but the standard lawn sign so familiar to everyone is six square feet. The law also says that there must be at least 100 feet between signs, but Teolis said to enforce that by having township employees pulling candidates' signs out fo the ground would not be wise. A third concern is how to treat banners strung across the town's main roads. That privilege has been reserved by custom to local fire and rescue squads, but some council members wanted a clear policy on it. The council decided to seek public input on the issue before deciding how to proceed. A new ordinance would be proposed by the planning board, which would submit it to the council for approval.