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Township May Ban Campaign, Garage Sale, Open House And Other Temporary Signs

Council considering law that would get rid of political campaign signs that littered public roadways last election season, but it would also ban garage sale, open house, and charity event signs

In an attempt to avoid political campaign signs lining Mahwah’s busiest streets, like Macarthur Boulevard and Ridge Road, this November, the township council is considering a rewording and enforcement push of its sign ordinance. If it passes the new rules, temporary signs would not be allowed in public right-of-ways.

However, the council debated at its meeting last Thursday whether or not it should disallow these signs, after township attorney Andrew Fede advised the governing body that if it bans one type of temporary sign, it must ban them all. So, campaign signs would not be allowed on the sides of public roads, but neither would real estate open house signs, garage sale signs, or Boy Scout pancake breakfast signs.

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.

According to township Business Administrator Brian Campion, the “problem with political signs” in the past “has been an enforcement issue.” He said the council could choose to change the ordinance, issue a policy statement saying all signs in the public right-of-way will be removed, or both.

Under the new policy, signs would still be permitted on private property.

Mayor Bill Laforet brought the matter to the council’s attention last month, . “This is an attempt to clean up Mahwah,” and a response to public complaints about political signs last election season, he said. According to the council, this issue comes up during and after almost every election season.

Councilman John Roth said the town is more concerned this year because “you’ve got everybody running, from school board right up through the President of the United States. Mahwah will be a mess [with signs].” He also said that although local candidates have historically removed signs in a timely fashion after elections, there is no guarantee that regional, state or national candidates will do the same.

Councilwoman Lisa DiGiulio disagreed with the proposed changes to the sign laws because of the impact they would have on other groups in Mahwah. “Why are we punishing everybody else because of political signs?” she said. “We are restricting everything,” she said in reference to an . “It’s like we’re not even a community anymore, I think it’s terrible.” DiGiulio objected most to non-profit groups in the township potentially losing the ability to advertise fundraisers and other events using temporary signs.

Councilman Roy Larson also pointed out that banning campaign signs will not get rid of campaign advertising. “I’d rather see signs in the street than get spam in my email,” he said at the meeting.

The council decided to ask Fede to draft a new version of the ordinance that removed the clause about asking for council permission to put up signs, and include an enforcement policy stating that temporary signs will be removed from public right-of-ways. Though the council said the new law may be introduced at its next meeting, any changes to the ordinance would not be made without a public hearing asking for resident opinions on the new rules.

ref June 15, 2012 at 10:06 AM
Does banning these signs mean that any over head banners and sign will also be eliminated from public view ie: "we support our troops" and marine moms signs by winters pond?
Bill June 15, 2012 at 10:31 AM
The mayor and council should spend more time reducing our taxes and cutting entitlements that we can't afford
John Simpson June 15, 2012 at 11:37 AM
The idea of Mahwah banning political speech is abhorrent. Considering the obvious First Amendment implications, I predict the town will be spending our tax revenue to defend any such proposal in Court, Democracy is a messy process at times. I, for one, am very willing to tolerate the political signs for candidates I may detest displayed anywhere in town. It is a right that I served in the Armed Forces to help defend.
Home Owner June 15, 2012 at 01:09 PM
One political sign per candidate per location is sufficient...I don't need to read your name 20 times to know you are running...same for real estate or other signs...but when numerous signs litter each corner, whether it be "vote for ___" or "open house", that's ridiculous. I suggest we limit the number of signs per location and charge a fee per sign that is NOT removed in a timely manner, after election day or open house or other event.
Andy Schmidt June 15, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Still think that they should limit the size of signs, and number of signs by the same organization within a given area. I don't mind the candidate's ONE sign at an intersection - but not 20 identical ones in a 100 feet stretch of road...
Brett June 15, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Who cares??? As long as the signs don't create a safety issue...leave them alone and move on to something more important.
Gary Paton June 15, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Larson is out of touch with reality. He says I’d rather see signs in the street than get spam in my email,” How dumb for an attorney. If you don't want to read an email, delete it. You cannot do that with all the political road signs and bedsheet banners put up by the Freeholder supporting a candidate.
hsr June 15, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Parkland or sign land? Lets try to move up not down. It doesn't look good. Last election was horrible.
Gary Paton June 15, 2012 at 01:38 PM
What will happened to the organzations that have a car raffle and its associated signs if they are not allowed to put up a sign? Who will enforce open house sign removal on Sunday's when there are no inspectors around?
J June 15, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Take notice of the picture and the enormous Bill Laforet sign. Really? Do they need to be that big???
JP June 15, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Anybody who says they want a sign to voice some overwhelming desire to demonstrate their first amendment rights, should put the sign on their own front lawn, and not violate my own rights not to have to "hear" theirs by sticking it on MacArthur Boulevard. This issue is about PUBLIC property people, not about banning all signs in all places in Mahwah. Be thankful they don't want to ban all signs outright throughout the town.
hsr June 15, 2012 at 02:18 PM
I agree JP.
KR June 15, 2012 at 02:28 PM
JP, hit it perfectly IMO. Your First Amendment. My Ninth Amendment. Clutter your property....not ours.
Sue Reardon June 15, 2012 at 02:51 PM
while i agree that the last election made Mahwah look as though a sign company exploded all over the place, I can also respect the rights of the parties in question, to campaign for election. So, like many others have said before me... let's see a limit on the number of signs and the size of the signs... this way, if Joe Shmoe (sorry to single you out Joe) decides to have a garage sale, or... a Girl Scout troop wants to have a book drive, or the Boy's baseball team wants to have a CAR WASH... then at least they can advertise by putting a sign up on the corner instead of having a kid out there, holding up a sign, and then causing a safety concern. I shake my head at almost everything I read lately... has common sense really become extinct??? :(
Pamela Stetson June 15, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I don't think you can outlaw signs -- FREE speech --- but you can limit the amount of signs AND the time allowed for the signs, ie, Open House sign - day of open house. Election signs --- 7 days before election and ONE per corner or maximum amount per candidate, etc. And, they should be removed within 24 hours ( there was a mayoral candidate sign still up on the corner of seminary and darlington for the longest time. It may still be there ) Yes, common sense should prevail ... ;)
Jonathan N. Marcus June 15, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Some great discussion here. As was pointed out in many posts above, this has nothing to do with "Freedom of Speech." No one is seeking to prohibit the placement of signs on private property. THAT would certainly have Constitutional implications. The issue here is simply whether we want to allow signs (any type of signs) to be placed on PUBLIC property, and, if so, what limitations might we want to impose around such permissive placement. As Pamela and Sue and many others have noted above, I believe there are some "common sense" rules that can be put in place to allow signs to be placed on public property. However, even the best drafted ordinances are useless without proper enforcement. As a result, one process I always like to go through before reviewing new legislation is to look at the existing legislation on the issue to determine whether the problem is truly a lack of legislation or whether it is a lack of proper enforcement of existing legislation. If the latter, then I question the usefulness of creating new legislation and the focus should be on proper enforcement of the existing laws.
hsr June 15, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Who is going to go to each corner and count the signs and keep track of the time they are there? You? Sounds dumb. Either we do have them or not.
Hank June 15, 2012 at 09:59 PM
ban all fixed signs only allow walking signs like those "last week going out of business' guys it will create jobs
Leaking Ink June 15, 2012 at 10:41 PM
This whole thing is ridiculous. My vote is with Pamela Stetson's ideas.
Andy Schmidt June 16, 2012 at 05:34 AM
No one. If you see more than one then it's too many.
Allan June 16, 2012 at 12:44 PM
You are looking at freedom of speech issues, even on public property. There have been ruling where certain types of property are considerd as being akin to the public square. Rather than banning signs completely, it would be more appropriate to limit a campaign to having no more than one sign per quarter mile on public property.
hsr June 16, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Maybe an automatic charge by the town to each person the sign is about is a good way to limit excessiveness. Give the money to recreation department. Do some good with it for town children. You all know we have kids roaming the streets at night ringing door bells and various other things. Keep them busy and tired! {You're right that will never fly don't even answer.}
CaraGia June 18, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Just how petty and silly are we going to continue to get. One sign per area is more than sufficient to get the point across., but charging permit fees for or banning all signs is such a asinine thing to do. Seriously people. cut the taxes and the waste, including the waste of time on small-minded issues of this nature. Between this issue and the personal trainers/boot camps using the parks for fitness groups, things are starting to feel more and more like a whiney, restrictive town than we'll all be comfortable living with in the end. Move on to the real substantive matters - lowering taxes and providing better services without nickel and dining the citizens, please!!
hsr June 18, 2012 at 09:29 PM
I don't get it who is dining the residents? Is everyone invited? Sorry just kidding.
ROSEMARY HANNIGAN June 18, 2012 at 10:07 PM
SO LARGE SIGNS ABOUT CAR RAFFLES ARE FINE AND NOT CONSIDERED AN EYE SORE I STAND WITH FREE SPEECH AND GET GOVERNMENT DOING PRODUCTIVE THINGS THAN ARGUING ABOUT PETTY NONSENSE. TOO MUCH GOVERNMENT CONTROLS
Andy Schmidt June 18, 2012 at 10:23 PM
I like what Upper Saddle River does - they have the corner of Lake Street and Saddle River Road - where all the civic organizations put up their signs for their events. This way, everyone gets their "free speech" - but it's not littered all over town, and avoid becoming a nuisance when ten or twenty of the same ones get lined up in the same area. Mahwah could designate a few spots along the main thoroughfares (such as near the train/police/fire station on Franklin Turnpike, on McArthur Blvd, on 202 at the school house or maybe the park entrance...), permitting one sign per organization/cause per location. Takes minimal effort to organize, keeps the rest of the town neat... level playing field for everyone.
Hank October 10, 2012 at 07:32 PM
dear red sign candidate you made an ugly mess at mcarthur/darlington. I don't know who you are but will not vote for someone who puts up an obnoxious display.

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