New law makes clear: No flashing, rolling signs

The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin
“I’ve changed my sign no less than six or seven times”: Joseph Salvino, owner of Track 32 restaurant, makes his case for an electronic sign for his restaurant at the town meeting. Councilman Adam Greenberg, left, and Supervisor Douglas LaGrange look on. 

NEW SCOTLAND — The plug has been pulled on flashing signs in town.

New Scotland has never allowed them. Now the town code has a definition for what constitutes a flashing sign and a digital sign. The board vote was unanimous.

In an occasionally contentious Oct. 11 town meeting, opponents of the proposed law made the argument that the town board was overstepping its authority, and some said the board was narrowly targeting the applicant who was seeking the sign.

Proponents, and the board, made it clear that the proposed law will affect the entire town and consideration needs to be made for all residents.

What the new law will do is add a definition to the already-existing law, about what is a flashing sign, and what is a digital sign.

Supervisor Douglas LaGrange opened the public hearing, noting that it was not a question-and-answer session, a or discussion; it was a time for the board to gather comments. LaGrange would have to reiterate this point throughout the hearing, as commenters tried to engage the board in debate. Residents who spoke were evenly split in their opinions.

Salvino makes his case

Joseph Salvino, owner of Track 32 Italian Pub, whose proposed sign was the basis of the hearing, was the first to speak. He began by playing a two-minute video that showed an electronic sign, which displayed a message that changed four times.

Each time the sign changed, it showed part of a message that read, “Track 32 is not | asking for too much | this sign is not | flashing moving.” 

When the video ended, Salvino said, “Sorry, because that is excruciating to watch, and that’s a two-minute video … It changed four times in two minutes, I’m proposing a sign that changes four times in 24 hours. For any person on the planet Earth — and no disrespect to people that are on this board, the other [planning] board, and the other [zoning] board, that I have been in front of — no less than 10 times, that is not flashing.”

“That did not flash, it didn’t move, it didn’t scroll, it didn’t blink, it didn’t do anything. What it did was, it got my message across,” he said, adding, “I’ve changed my sign no less than six or seven times … It has a black background and red letters — period. No pictures, nothing. Just plain, simple text.

“I’ve done everything I can to comply with the law, so what has happened is — for some reason — someone on one of these boards, personally, is against this,” he said.  

The sign saga began when Salvino wanted to install a digital message-board sign at his restaurant, which he was told would be determined to be flashing. After Salvino made adjustments — the sign would not scroll, would have just two colors, and would change its message only four times per day — Building Inspector Jeremy Cramer did not consider the sign to be flashing, and the application was allowed to move forward with a special-use permit to the planning board.

The planning board challenged Cramer’s determination, because it wanted a better definition of what constitutes a flashing sign. At the zoning board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 26, a majority of the board members expressed skepticism over the planning board’s appeal, but could not make a determination before a public hearing could be held.

Salvino spoke about the process of the boards: “It’s the way they did it — not only was it an attempt to — but what they did was, it allowed them to table my application.” He said that another two months passed and “we go to the zoning board of appeals to appeal it — which is done by plan — because these people are not stupid, and these boards are not stupid. It was done by plan, so we didn’t have time to notify the newspaper to have a public hearing.”

The planning, zoning, and town boards were dealing with the sign issue concurrently. So, at its September meeting, the town board set a date, for the Oct. 11 public hearing, on a proposed law to further define — separately — what constitutes a digital and flashing sign.

The Zoning Board of Appeals had granted Track 32 a variance for the size and location of the sign, before the public hearing for the proposed law took place.

Republican response

After Salvino finished he comments, Deane Fish, the town’s Republican Party Chairman,  followed and began by trying ask the all-Democratic board a question about already-existing signs in New Scotland that would not be in compliance with the proposed law. He was reminded by LaGrange that the purpose of a public meeting was to hear people’s opinions and thoughts, not to answer questions.

Fish persisted with his question.

LaGrange relented, and said that, at least, Stewart’s would not be in compliance with the proposed law.

Fish proceeded to ask another question: “What is the number of public complaints that have been made about the signs that now exist in the town?”

LaGrange said, “Again, you’re asking questions, and we’re looking for input.”

Fish shot back,”You’re going get the input when you will answer the question.”

LaGrange retorted, “That won’t be happening, because we’re not here to debate the issue; we’re here to take information from the public.”

When Fish finally made his comment, it was in support of Salvino’s sign. “Broaden, or narrow, the law, so that he can do business,” he said.

Cynthia Elliott spoke in favor of Salvino’s sign as well. She said, “The two minutes that you looked at, his sign change is proposed to be 1,400 times more than that — longer in duration. It is not flashing.”

Craig Shufelt, who is a Republican candidate for town board, used his public comments to make a campaign speech: “I speak with you tonight, on behalf of, what I feel, are three important things. Concern, support, and ethical responsibility. I speak about concern, and that’s concern for the new businesses that you claim to wish to attract, those who want to make New Scotland their home. And also concern for the existing business that are already here …

“I speak to you on support, support of one of our very limited — very limited — new and local restaurants that have chosen … to make their investment in our backyard … Finally ethical responsibility, it need not be said that you are all elected officials, you have an ethical responsibility to get it right, together.”

Shufelt then went on to repeat what he told The Enterprise about the boards working together.

Shufelt said, “It’s also ethically wrong, when you have a zoning board member with her own agenda, posting lawn signage, throughout the town — on the town’s behalf, as an elected official — and thrusting her own personal opinion, publically. It’s unethical. And quite frankly, she should lose her position over it.”

Abrams’s signs

Shufelt was referencing Edith Abrams, an appointed member of the New Scotland Zoning Board of Appeals.  

Responding to Shufelt’s criticism through The Enterprise, Abrams said, “First of all, I am not an elected official, so he’s wrong. He has no idea how local government works, OK?”

Abrams said she wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor about Shufelt’s candidacy, and the fall election. In the letter she wrote of Shufelt, “He doesn’t attend town board and planning board meetings (attending just one doesn’t count, in my book; I attend almost all). He doesn’t even know that our boards must work independently of each other, just like other branches of government. (The town board enacts the laws; the planning board administers the laws; and, the zoning board of appeals decides when a law can be varied according to a particular instance.)”

Abrams had posed a cardboard sign on a tree in front of her house that said, “Digital, illuminated, flashing sign law public hearing; control your quality of life.” It was illustrated with pictures of three neon signs.

Abrams said, “These signs were not on behalf of the town, not on behalf of the town board, not on behalf of the planning board, and not on behalf of the zoning board. Nowhere on the sign does it say anything that these signs were sponsored by government.”

“The most important thing to me, is that people in the town are aware of what’s happening, so that they can have a voice. That sign could attract both pro and con people to the local law, I did not have any opinion whatsoever posted on any of the signs about the local law. I believe in inclusive democracy,” Abrams said.

In an email to The Enterprise, Abrams explained that the the sign she placed in front of her home was not the first time she had done something like that to alert residents to an issue the town board is going to take up. She wrote, “I put up signs that said "Big box coming!," "Do you want an enclosed dog park?," "Retail development proposed," (regarding the Kay development between Falvo's and Stonewell), and now the last sign, "Do you want these signs on our roads?"  In none of these signs, have I expressed my personal opinion. Anyone seeing these signs, whether pro or con the issue, could go to a public hearing.”

Varied views

At the public hearing, resident Dean Sommer said he read the law as trying to preserve the night sky. “I was picturing this law as a prudent approach to what might be the inevitable attempt by businesses to start having more illuminated signs.”

Joseph Parrottino also spoke in favor of the law. “This is a rural environment; they started businesses in a rural environment. They knew that going in. They didn’t invest in Colonie Center … They invested in New Scotland, the town of New Scotland, the little hamlet of New Scotland. They invested their money, that’s up to them as business owners; that’s the risk they took in investing in our town.”

Board views

William Hennessy was the first board member to speak after the hearing was closed: “While we often address specific issues and areas that are only specific to certain hamlets and certain parts of town, this board has to keep its perspective in a town-wide fashion.

“This law is town-wide, it is not specific to a zone. If we lost our perspective and just try to spot-zone or spot-locate a certain area — if we lose our town-wide perspective, then we are not doing a service to the entire town. We will risk impacting or affecting other areas of the town, because of the first few applications. They will continue to grow,” he said

“Frankly, if neighboring towns don’t support these signs, why would we? Guilderland allows these signs for charitable organizations and emergency services. You see them on Western Avenue, but you don’t see them on any businesses. The village of Voorheesville does not allow these signs, the town of Bethlehem does not allow these signs.” Coeymans, Westerlo, and Berne also don’t allow the signs, he said.

Hennessey said, “I’m totally in favor of this law.”

Patricia Snyder followed: “This is a law that meant to clarify one that we already have on the books.” Snyder said she reached out to as many people as she could, and said, “Most people, go back to some of the things we were talking about earlier, the visual impacts and distractions, and the cultural and the hamlet and rural nature of our community now.”

“So, I am in support of the law as presented tonight, to further define and clarify a law that we have had on the books for many years,” she said.

Adam Greenberg, said “This is not about one application. The zoning and planning boards are separate from us.” Greenberg, who is up for re-election then addressed Shufelt’s comments about the town boards needing to work together; he said, “I know there’s been some talk that somehow we’re all supposed to coordinate; that’s actually what we are not supposed to do.”

As Greenberg began to make his next point, he was cut off by Salvino, who said, “You did though, apparently you did [work together]. The appeal and everything; if you think that I’m that stupid — OK, maybe I didn’t go to college, like you people did — if you think I’m that stupid that this wasn’t all set up … having the building inspector make a determination, then have someone appeal it. How often does that happen in this town?”

Greenberg interjected, and said, “We let you speak without interrupting, I would appreciate if you would afford me the same courtesy.” Salvino was apologetic and Greenberg continued: “I see it as a town-wide, level playing field. Once we allow it one place, it’s only fair that we allow it in other places, and I just see a proliferation of these signs if that’s where we head with this. To me, this law makes sense; it keeps all business on an equal playing field.” Greenberg said he was in support of the law.

Laura Ten Eyck said, “I am very sensitive to the concerns of small business. I feel strongly about it, and, as you all know, I am involved in my family’s business at Indian Ladder Farms. I am particularly concerned about the challenges that small businesses have in the face of regulation … I know how incredibility frustrating it is, firsthand.”

Ten Eyck said, personally, she does not like the type of signs that were being discussed.

“We have been listening to this one individual talk about his particular circumstance, which is not the focus of this in general,” she said. “But it was a good opportunity for me to hear from a person who wants one of these signs and as a fellow small-business person, I was very intent on trying to understand why he needed it.”

The board was provided with marketing materials from the sign company, which was geared more toward selling the signs to businesses, she said. Ten Eyck said, she went and did her own research and found there’s no definitive proof that a flashing sign brings in more business.

She said she heard a lot of support for Salvino’s sign, because its location won’t have a negative impact on anyone. But she had not heard support for signs town-wide.

LaGrange noted that changes to the town law or zoning code almost always happen because of single situation. And the proposed law was not targeted at Salvino; it just so happened that his application exposed a hole in the law, and the board was being prudent in acting on it. He said he is also in favor of the law.

The board voted unanimously to approve the law.

More New Scotland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.