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Council May Ban Campaign Signs From Public Right-Of-Way

Do you want to see campaign signs lining Macarthur Boulevard?

This November, residents will be voting for candidates running in local government and , county, state and national elections. The median along Macarthur Blvd. may not be wide enough to house all of the campaign signs headed its way.

At the request of the mayor, the town council at its Thursday night meeting considered altering or re-interpreting the township’s sign ordinance to limit or ban the signage allowed in the public right-of-way.

After much , a council sub-committee tasked with reevaluating Mahwah’s sign laws has not met, Councilwoman Lisa DiGiulio said. Council President John Spiech heads the three-member committee.

“I am asking the council to consider enforcing a law allowing no campaign signs in the public right-of-way,” Mayor Bill Laforet said Thursday night, prompting a discussion on political signs. “I think we are far enough in advance of the election that we can set the ground rules, because this really affects the appearance of our town.” Laforet asked that signs only be allowed on private property, like on resident’s front lawns.

The council asked the sign ordinance subcommittee – made up of Spiech, DiGiulio and Councilman Roy Larson – to meet and return to the council with a proposal by its first meeting in June. “We should try to get this done in a timely fashion,” Councilman Harry Williams said. “Election season is already here, especially since petitions [for local offices] are now available for pickup. Candidates will be ordering signs soon.”

The current sign ordinance says that permits must be obtained from the township’s construction official before any signs are put up in Mahwah. However, it lists political signs as “exempt.” The ordinance reads: “Exempt signs…shall be permitted within all zoning districts of the Township of Mahwah.” But, it also says that “signs placed in the public right-of-way or on public property without first obtaining prior approval of the Township Council,” are prohibited.

Last year, a chicken-or-egg question emerged about which aspect of the law - signs that are prohibited or signs that are exempt -  superseded the other.

Chief James Batelli said the two aspects of the law “seem to be in conflict,” which has hindered the ordinance’s enforcement. “We have asked for clarification regarding these sections [but] have not yet received such clarification,” Batelli said.

“Each year I hear complaints from local residents about the multitude of political signs in the public right-of-way and the appearance it gives the township,” Batelli said. “To date we have not issued any ordinance violations for political signs in a public right-of-way.”

Thursday night, Larson questioned whether or not banning political signs in public places is allowed Constitutionally. Township Attorney Andrew Fede said he would check into Supreme Court cases to see what the precedent is regarding campaign signage. “You need to be very careful [when creating a law like this], but there are ways to do it,” Fede said.

The council said it would consider limiting the size, placing, and proliferation of political campaign signs throughout the township.

Laforet said he feels clarifying the ordinance before signs start popping up is "important. If you put signs on your lawn, they are cleaned up the day after the election, that’s not a big deal. But, with everybody from the President on down running this year, I really think we need to address this for the good of the community.”

ref May 11, 2012 at 10:35 AM
We didn't hear any complaints from the police Deparetment last year did we? I wonder why?
J May 11, 2012 at 12:43 PM
The signs should all be the same size, the large signs are very distracting. The candidates should also be responsible to have all signs removed within a certain amount of time after the elections or be fined. J Hyman
fred stedtler May 11, 2012 at 12:55 PM
The sign issue has to be addressed. Last year's election was just local and the over abundance of signs was very evident. It can only get worse with the presidential campaign.A limit has to be placed if not a total ban on signs
Andy Schmidt May 11, 2012 at 01:12 PM
If we HAVE to allow signs on the public right-of-ways, then maybe we can at least limit: a) the size of each sign and the maximum height off the bottom? b) a minimum distance of 500 ft between two signs by the same organization? Finally, I agree with the other comments - if it's constitutionally permitted NO signs should be allowed in right-of-ways. Just the other day I read an article that claimed that "many residents were displaying signs for ... on their front laws" - and when I biked through town I still noticed these signs - but at Intersections on the public right of ways. So - someone was using the number of right-of-way placement to claim that the PUBLIC was in support of that particular cause (which they may or may not be).
Leaking Ink May 11, 2012 at 01:15 PM
ref--as the article suggests you didn't hear any complaints from the Police Department last year regarding signs because the two ordinances are in conflict and were never clarified.
Nick May 11, 2012 at 01:25 PM
This signs wouldn't be so bad if they limited to 1 per spot. Do we need 10-15 of the same sign all the way up MacArthur, and then another 6 of the same at the intersection. 1 sign per intersection is enough, they should be small/standard sizes, and they need to be pulled out the day after the election.
Susan Manziano May 11, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Signs are ok within reason. There is should be a minimum distance between signs (miles, not feet) and maximum number of signs per location (one, not clusters).
Steven Sbarra May 11, 2012 at 01:54 PM
The same issue about signs came before last year's election at a council meeting and a committee was set up to address the issue. it is disappointing that this has not been resolved already one way or another. As a candidate last year I wanted and needed to know the rules but it was left up to the interpretation of various officials and thus we had the issues that we still have now. I only hope that this is resolved way in advance of this year's election. Personally I believe that signs should be banned at all public right of ways. Not only do I think the signs are an eyesore but I also believe they have the potential to be a safety hazzard for the public. I have no problem with signs being up on the property owners lawns showing their support for the candidates. Its about time for our elected officials to make a decision and change the sign ordinance.
JP May 11, 2012 at 04:07 PM
If they can't ban the signs completely, then at least limit them to ONE every 1000 feet of each other. We don't need to see the same signs every 10 feet. Upstreaming (the practice of reading my sign first) of competitive signs should not be allowed either within a certain footage.
JP May 11, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Just put your sign on Patch like mine is. "Republican for Obama"!
Mike Kupchik May 12, 2012 at 01:02 AM
I agree with no duplicated signs in any one area, and all should be uniform-sized. Any County, State, and Federal election signs in the future should be under same rules. I suggest a hearty fine for any signs left two days past election day.
JackK May 15, 2012 at 04:13 AM
With the chronic low turnouts in mahwah, i say signs should be up and reminding everyone to get out and vote. Please put them up and let anyone that wants to run, run. Anything is better than the status quo.
Mahwah Resident June 13, 2012 at 02:08 PM
It was ok that our present mayor had "very large" signs all over...............
hsr June 13, 2012 at 02:24 PM
I think some of the up scale towns don't allow signs for elections. Anyway there are too many and some are never removed. The town has to waste time doing it. Maybe the candidates should pay a fee for each sign put up.
JP June 14, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Plus, there is NO way possible to read all that on a sign as you are driving past it. Signs like those Bill was putting up are pure traffic hazards.
J. Dalton June 20, 2012 at 02:11 AM
I am in full support in freedom to express our views and in leadership by and for the people. We need less government telling the poeple what's good for them. However, a compromise with a simple local ordinance limiting the the time before and after an election would suffice. This issue only comes up during election time so banning is an extremist measure that would have a negative effect on all signage and elininate one venue to express our views. Don't kid yourself that the loss of something simple as the freedom of placing a sign is minor. Those who don't know history will be bound to repeat it.

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