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Banning Signs Could 'Improve Visual Quality' of Mahwah, Board Votes

One more step before advertisements, campaign signs and charity event signs would be banned from lining public roadways

A change to the township law that would took one more step toward becoming a reality at a Planning Board meeting Monday night. The board voted to endorse an ordinance revision that would disallow advertisements, open house announcements, political campaign and all other temporary signs from being placed alongside public roadways.

If passed by the township next month, the revision to the law would “clean up” the town, especially during election season, proponents say.

The discussion about the law came up as a reaction to the number of campaign signs lining the streets in last year’s election, and the anticipated number that would be put up this year from people running for local, state and national offices, township officials said.

Currently, signs are only allowed in the right-of-way with special permission from the township council. The amendment to the law removes the power of the council to allow it, and flat-out prohibits all temporary signs from public roadways.

Though the planning board endorsed the change and called it consistent with Mahwah’s Master Plan, board members did bring up some concerns about “unintended consequences” of the law:

  • A few board members said they were concerned that it would be harder for non-profit groups, like a Boy Scout Troop holding a pancake breakfast, or township-run groups, like the Recreation Department holding an event or volunteer ambulance corps holding a recruitment drive, to advertise.
  • Board member Ellen Stein, the only member who voted against the new law, brought up several concerns about it. She called the sign ban an act of “taking someone’s liberty away. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing a sign that the library is hosting an event.”
  • Most board members said they felt the removal of business advertisements for things like Internet dating sites would be a good thing. However, Stein brought up the possible economic impact that might have. “I am not opposed to people who are trying to make money in tough economic times,” she said.
  • Board members also asked about whether or not the township would be able to remove signs from state-owned property like entrance and exit ramps to Route 17. Board members said those ramps were "some of the biggest offenders" during the last election.
  • Board member Jerry Crean said it would be difficult to enforce, as township employees, who he said were “already stretched” in their duties, would have to remove any signs appearing in the right-of-way.

Mayor Bill Laforet said township administration considered placing a time limit on signs instead of banning them, but felt that would be “impossible to enforce.” He also said the main goal behind the proposed change is to keep the township from “looking like trash. We are not trying to go after the Boy Scouts, we are trying to clean up the town,” he said Monday.

Laforet also said he felt that taking away community groups’ ability to place signs up in public places wouldn’t hurt their outreach efforts. “There are so many other venues to get the message out, I don’t think the pancake breakfast will be adversely affected by not putting up a few signs,” he said.

Signs would still be allowed on private property under the new law.

Township planner David Roberts said the new law was consistent with the township’s Master Plan goal of “improving the visual quality,” of Mahwah. Now, with planning board endorsement, the law will go back to the township council for a final vote.

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JP July 25, 2012 at 03:29 PM
This is one of the best things this town has ever done. Signs of these types (stick them in the ground) are way ugly and distracting.
T-Bird 148 July 25, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Great ... another ordinance with no teeth. Why bother?
Maria Vail July 25, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Why don't we make a place for signs. A big town center kiosk where everyone can put signs. repetitive signs would be removed. A place for civic discourse, town events, near Rita's. People hanging out there might revitalize that little business district.
Jessica Mazzola July 25, 2012 at 07:11 PM
Actually...I'm going to amend my past comment. There is a clause in the current sign ordinance that does assess a fine to violators. That clause will not be removed in the ordinance revision. The question, if the change gets passed, will be about enforcing the fine. The discussion at the PB meeting centered on increased enforcement in terms of taking signs down, but I'm not sure about increasing enforcement of fines. When I find out more details on that I'll let you know. This is from the ordinance... "There shall be a fifty ($50.00) dollar fine imposed upon the property owner or the owner's agent or applicant for any violation of the regulations which apply to temporary signs. A fifty ($50.00) dollar fine shall be imposed for each and every day the violation continues to exist."
Eileen R July 26, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Why can we have a place to put these signs without infringing on anyone, place or thing. I agree with Maria. I sure we could find some common ground to have these signs for a specified period of time and once the event is finished they have to be taken down or a fine imposed according to ordinance. It would not be hard to follow or impose as they would all be in one place. That way the organizations in town would not have their fundraisers fail and also we would still have the democracy of political signs with approval and not a garbage pile on every corner .

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