Packaging sign violations as a righteous pursuit of free speech is an insult

To the Editor:
It is not often that I am surprised. So when there was a late entry at the Guilderland Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Nov. 2, of a proposal to further amend the sign permit for the electronic sign at the Town Center Plaza, on the heels of the matter being dispatched by the zoning board at its previous meeting on Oct. 19, well, that was a surprise.

The ZBA had amended the sign permit to allow illumination of the rotating graphic display of businesses during their hours of operation: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. There had been a matter of noncompliance around that, with the sign displaying 24 hours a day.

In documentation obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request with regard to the history of complaints relative to the Town Center electronic sign, a communication between the chief zoning inspector and Ms. Wolanin (as representative of the corporation that owns Town Center) relayed that, per the opinion of the zoning department, hours of operation would include overnight deliveries at Market 32 and the 24-hour ATM at Berkshire Bank, thus justifying a 24-hour display.

No, it was not unexpected that a new proposal appeared before the board to amend the amended sign permit to allow for a perpetual display.

Minimizing the impact to neighboring homes; “the sign may be visible from the 2nd floor” (where bedrooms are and people sleeping during the hours of 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.), “blocked by trees” (not for six months out of the year when there are no leaves to screen), and “light emitted would be no more of a distraction than the headlights from traffic on Western Ave.” (sporadic at best during late night/early morning hours), and concluding that a 24-hour electronic display of graphics was necessary so that poor visibility would not be suffered during overnight hours, despite already illuminated signs on the facades of buildings, also not unexpected.

But, while the amended sign permit now allowed content other than just the businesses in the plaza to be on display of the former directory sign, there was a proviso iterated by Ms. (Elizabeth) Lott, of the board when the subject came up of “flexibility on rental signs.” That being “if the code permits it.”

Section 280-26E(8) of the sign code states:

“Signs used in connection with the sale, rental or improvement of real property may only be located on the premises to be sold, rented or improved. The signs shall not exceed one sign of 12 square feet or two signs of six square feet in area for each development.”

In the case of Town Center, there are already such signs displayed on the premises, which meet and are in compliance with this criteria.

Almost immediately following the ZBA approval of the amended sign permit on Oct. 19, did additional advertisements for rental availability for Town Center and the 1700 apartment complex appear on the electronic display.

As this appeared to be a direct contradiction to what the code permits, a complaint was filed with the chief zoning inspector. When the ZBA chairman addressed this complaint within the context of further amending the sign permit, well that was a surprise.

And the bigger surprise, that despite what is clearly stated in the town code of a limit where rental property signs are concerned, the chairman stated in his motion that “it was the interpretation of the board that the rental ads on electronic display do not count as additional signage.”

This was not a variance request, where the zoning board has as its purview the ability to allow for deviations, where warranted, from what the code dictates. This was a determination that what is stated in the code should just not be applied in this instance.

Adding to the surprise, not one member of the zoning board present on this evening seemed to find any fault with this determination. Absent was Ms. Lott, who during the Oct. 19 discussion on the proposed amended sign permit, queried and received validation that “any permit automatically says that it has to comply with the law, right?”

Stupefying about all of this, is that somehow it has been draped in a righteous pursuit of free speech. There is nothing noble about this and packaging it as such is an insult to those who put their lives at risk to give voice to actual injustices.

In the scheme of issues and concerns facing Guilderland, I would be the first to acknowledge that this is a matter of small consequence. But it is indicative of something of great consequence.

From the beginning, this has been about a monied commercial interest having its way with regulations and our regulatory boards and departments seemingly bending over backwards to enable it.

While mystified, I am sadly, not surprised.

Iris Broyde


More Letters to the Editor

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.