ROADSIDE SIGNS IN SHELTON: With new law, get a permit or get a fine

The Shelton Board of Aldermen has approved a new city ordinance that will ban temporary signs from being placed on municipal property without advance written permission and will begin imposing fines for violations.

This primarily involves the roadside signs — also known as lawn signs — put up to promote events and businesses.

The ordinance passed at a Thursday meeting after an extended discussion and debate by aldermen, with questions raised about how it would effect local nonprofit groups, how and who would enforce it, whether the city has authority over utility poles, and how the formal process will be put in place to approve or disapprove of sign requests in advance.

Specifically, the ordinance prohibits signs from city property and city right-of-ways without getting permission, and bans all signs from utility poles. It gives the city the authority to remove the signs and issue fines from $50 to $250 per sign for violations.

The aldermen agreed to move back the start-date for about a month in order to work on the administrative process for approving signs. This also should allow the city to begin to educate the public about the new rules, aldermen said.

‘You’ll fine St. Joseph Church?’

Alderman Jack Finn, the lone Democrat, asked most of the questions and eventually opposed the ordinance.

Among other concerns, Finn was worried it might hurt local, nonprofit groups who promote fairs, festivals and other events. “I’d hate to see them get fined,” he said.

“You’ll fine St. Joseph Church $50?” he later asked, in a hypothetical situation.

Other aldermen said it’s for-profit operations that blanket the city with signs that are the biggest problem. Many are from out-of-state companies and promote questionable services such as buying houses from desperate home-sellers.

The ordinance passed by a 7-1 vote, with the seven Republican aldermen all in favor. Earlier, an amendment to delay the start-date of the ordinance to July 15 was approved unanimously.

Temporary signs will remain legal on private property as long as they don’t conflict with zoning laws.

Signs don’t get taken down

“A lot of time and effort went into this,” said Alderman Eric McPherson, who sponsored the ordinance.

McPherson said the problem is that many people never take down the signs they put up, so they become a form of litter.

“It’s getting totally out of hand,” agreed John Anglace, aldermanic president.

Anglace said the new ordinance should be considered a work in progress, and may need to be tweaked in the future. This might include designating a few locations on city property around town where these signs are allowed, he said.

Making someone responsible

Fred Wills, who helps handle zoning enforcement issues for the city, said the city will work with local organizations who want to promote events.

Wills said the permit process will allow the city to control how many signs are put up, and will make a specific person responsible for taking signs down.

He said it should eventually cut down on the proliferation of the signs. “Once people understand you can’t do it, the volume of signs will go down,” Wills predicted.

Another concern expressed by Finn was how the ordinance might negatively impact local print shops that produce the signs.

Below is an earlier article, with more details, on the ordinance when it was still a proposal:

Ordinance would issue fines for illegal signs

by Brad Durrell
“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign” goes the well-known rock song from the early 1970s.

Well, the city of Shelton is hoping to do something about all those signs placed without permission on city property, municipal rights-of-way and utility poles.

The Board of Aldermen is contemplating passing an ordinance to control signage on city land, which would includes fines up to $250 per offense.

The ordinance would require written permission from the city to put up signs on municipal land, and would ban all signs and notices on utility poles.

It would also allow the city to immediately take down signs put up on city land without permission, or any signs placed on utility poles.

Fines for disobeying the rules would be $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense, and $250 for the third and subsequent offenses. “Each sign shall be considered a separate offense,” states the proposed ordinance.

Citations could be issued by police officers, city planning and zoning administrator, zoning enforcement officers and anti-blight officers. Political signs are exempt.

'A proliferation of signs'

According to the ordinance, “there has been a proliferation of signs placed on city property without the city’s permission or consent” and also put on utility poles.

Placing such items on utility poles already is against state law, but enforcement is an issue since the utility companies don’t pursue legal remedies. Utility companies want municipalities to handle enforcement.

The proposed ordinance would deal only with signs on city land, rights-of-way and telephone poles. Signs placed on private property are considered a zoning enforcement issue.

A daily problem

Rick Schultz, city planning and zoning administrator, said his office deals with illegally placed signs on a daily basis.

Many complaints have to do with signs blocking sight lines for drivers, creating a public safety hazard. The police sometimes get involved when public safety is put at risk.

Schultz said staff will contact the businesses or organizations being advertised to have the signs removed, while they sometimes will remove illegal signs themselves. More of the signs now promote out-of-town entities, making it harder to control them, he said.

The state, he said, conducts regular cleanup days where illegal signs on state property are removed (including state roads such as Route 110 and Bridgeport Avenue).

“The purpose of the ordinance is to go after the violators — those not cooperating,” said Schultz, referring to those who don’t take signs down once contacted.

Most signs either promote nonprofit group events or businesses, such as tree removal, metal pickup, buying houses or home contracting.

Schultz said the proposed ordinance would give “teeth” to enforcement, with the fines and more detail on who is responsible.

Feedback at public hearing

The Board of Aldermen recently held a public hearing on the proposed sign ordinance.

Fred Wills, who handles anti-blight and zoning enforcement matters for the city, told aldermen that illegal signs “blight the landscape.”

Event signs often remain up well after an event has taken place, and signs are put on public and private properties without authorization, he said.

Wills said the proposed ordinance would introduce “long, overdue control methods,” such as fines. “The fine structure is realistic and it is necessary,” he said, noting it could discourage violations and raise money for better enforcement.

Alderman Eric McPherson said people put up signs and then never take them down. “It’s out of control,” he said. “It becomes litter. It’s unsightly and something needs to be done about it.”

Fining the correct individual?

Mayor Mark Lauretti said fining the correct person could be a challenge, with signs for businesses or events perhaps being put up by people not directly related to what is being promoted.

“You have to have evidence,” said Lauretti, which might mean essentially catching someone in the act.

Alderman Jack Finn said he’s heard from people concerned the proposed ordinance could harm people just trying to promote a tag sale.