P&Z shares political sign regs ahead of elections

Darien Election Decision 2012

UPDATE: The Beautification Commission is concerned with lawn signs placed on public property, said Bob Baker, a member of the group. No signs are allowed on the public right-of-way without permission from the town or the Department of Transportation, no matter what the text says.

To enforce this regulation, several years ago the Connecticut Department of Transportation removed signs along Post Road, also known as U.S. Route 1, Baker said. He added that Planning and Zoning enforcement officials regularly remove signs from public areas.

A defining case regarding local sign regulation, City of LaDue v. Gilleo, from St. Louis, Mo., was settled in 1994 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices overturned a town decision to remove a a politically-themed sign from a private home and noted the unique position residents have in using freedom of speech from their homes. The case also upheld the idea that signs cannot be restricted based on content.

“These [cases] unequivocally state that local governments may regulate political signs on public property, may also have some limited authority on signs on private property,” Baker said in regard to Supreme Court precedents. “Any constraint on political signs must not be more restrictive than restraints on non-political signs, and cannot enforce restrictions to one political party while permitting other political parties to erect signs.”

ORIGINAL REPORT: Almost moreso than Christmas or Halloween, there is no time of year more characterized by home decoration than election season.

And now that November is around the corner, some residents are starting to put up their politcal signs on their front lawns to indicate their preference.

Darien’s Planning & Zoning Department has two main concerns regarding lawn signs of any kind — image and safety.

The department recommends that residents wait two weeks before elections to place yard signs, said Jeremy Ginsberg, Planning & Zoning director. It also suggests that signs be no greater than 1.5 by 2 feet and at least 8 feet from the road.

There are town rules for signs but nothing specific to political or campaign signs. The town asks residents for specific sizing and placement to prevent distraction to drivers and clutter in the area.

Zoning regulations also state that signs “may tend to depreciate property values, may be incompatible with permitted land uses and may be detrimental to the preservation and enhancement of the aesthetic and historical values of the community.”

Ginsberg said that the Beautification Commission, specifically, is concerned with “the proliferation of lawn signs around this time of year.”

He added that around elections, Democratic and Republican parties will give out lawn signs to gain support. He asked that all parties share the proper guidelines when giving out signs . Ginsberg said that campaign signs are usually timely to the season and that most people are respectful.

“If the whole point is to convince people to change their mind, leaving signs out after the election doesn’t do a thing,” he said.

The town will not enforce reports of improper signs, especially between neighbors, due to the“potential contentious nature,” Ginsberg said.

Lieutenant Donald Anderson, the police’s legal traffic authority, said that the town has to take a “content-neutral” approach based on Supreme Court precedent. Town officials and police cannot regulate based on the content of signs, which includes specifying how long campaign or political signs remain in place. No signs are allowed on the public right of way.

Police get reports of disappearing campaign signs every election cycle, though no reports have been made this year, Anderson said. Stealing a campaign sign is sixth-degree larceny, which covers property under $500. Anderson noted that finding a witness for this kind of report is very difficult. “The only time we get involved is when the sign is causing a hazard,” Anderson said.

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