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.