SOMERS, N.Y. - An ad hoc cohort of business folk and property owners, perplexed about proposed amendments to Somers’ sign ordinance, has tasked itself with coming up with a compromise that will make both them and the town happy.
The Town Board held a public hearing at its Sept. 6 meeting on temporary signs in the business/historic district.
As the zoning laws now stand, temporary signs advertising things like space for rent, or property for sale, are allowed in the business/historic district, but not anywhere else in town.
This is “almost ironic,” said Supervisor Rick Morrissey, considering the district is the “most regulated” in town.
The proposed amendment banning temporary signs there would, he said, “level the playing field.”
But some members of the public who spoke up at the hearing Thursday said they were worried that the proposed change might not do that.
Dr. Ami Ranani, owner and optometrist at the Somers Eye Center on Route 202, after joking that he was thinking of the signage issue while sitting down to pay his “huge tax bill,” told the board that, for him, registering with the Multiple Listing Service has been much less effective than posting small “For Rent” signs.
Of the six office suites in a building he owns, only two have been filled, he said.
Local folks are much more likely to “bite” if they see such signs while driving by, Ranani added.
Somers town attorney Roland A. Baroni Jr. pointed out that another reason for amending the sign ordinance is to make it more uniform.
Right now, for instance, Baroni said, there is no distinction between window signs and signs placed in the street.
Councilman Richard Clinchy said that some folks feel that a lot of signs along a street could detract from the town’s bucolic image.
Morrissey said that the length of time such signs can be posted has needed clarifying.
In one extreme instance, the supervisor recalled, there was one that seemed to be up “for 15 years.”
Ralph Ragetté, a professional Realtor who operates out of Scarsdale, owns an office building on Route 202 called the Stone Springs House after the farm once located there. The property is bordered by Ivandell Cemetery and Heritage Hills.
Ragetté, who referenced his right to “free speech,” said he feels businesses have the right to display small signs. They “don’t have to be billboards,” he added.
There seemed to be a consensus among speakers that limiting the size of temporary signs would not be a burden, nor would requiring their placement at a “reasonable” setback.
Rick DiNardo, owner of Il Forno Italian Kitchen and Bar on Route 202 and one of folks behind the mixed-use Wrights Court development, said he, and other business owners and landlords, had met with Morrissey recently and all agreed that there needs to be more “uniformity” in the town code.
Dubbing the issue “complicated,” he asked the board to extend the hearing, so that business owners could put their heads together and clarify their understanding moving forward.
The hearing was continued and will resume at a later date.
Meanwhile, the ad hoc group has already held a confab on the issue and plans at least two more get-togethers before it nails down a formal position to present to the board.
Jim Boniello, of Boniello Development, builder of custom luxury homes, drew a little pushback from town officials when he raised the issue of what he called “selective enforcement.”
Morrissey, who “took exception” to the comment, said the town is very diligent and even-handed when it comes to the removal of illegal temporary signs.
“Just go to the building department; you’ll see stacks and stacks of signs there,” Morrissey said.
The code enforcement officer, he added, can only act if he receives a complaint.
Boniello said his only intent is to call for a simple-to-understand and “cohesive” sign ordinance. He said he has no desire to see anything that would harm the town’s attractiveness, such as “banners” or lit signs.
That raised a question for Douglas Abdelnour, who owns a photography studio in town and makes banners for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, where he is a congregant and former vestryman.
The church, a “mainstay” in the community, hosts quite a few events such as concerts and festivals. It has hung banners for services and fundraisers.
Last year, Abdelnour said, it was asked by the town to remove a banner advertising a winter concert, but a more recent banner for a fundraiser for a local charitable organization was left alone.
Banners are a “community service,” he said later.
For instance, when St. Luke’s displayed a banner alerting folks to a prayer vigil following the 9/11 attacks, it was “packed,” Abdelnour said.
Ranani, who took the podium a second time, appealed to the board, saying: “All of us are saying (that) we need help to fill our spaces.”
“Somers is a terrific town,” he added, “there shouldn’t be so much empty space.”
Morrissey emphasized that the relationship between business folk and town officials “is not an adversarial one.”
“We’ve been struggling with this issue for some time,” he said.
The Sept. 6 hearing was continued so that the speakers … and the town attorney .. could put their heads together and come up with something everyone could live with something Morrissey said “that’s good for the (entire) town.”