by Joshua Maloni
For the better part of two years, the Village of Lewiston Planning Board has faced a significant challenge: new businesses with new signage. Business owners new to the village are unaware of the sign laws and often times either ignore the Planning Board or purchase and post signs that don't conform with the municipality's code (let alone its historic nature) in size, shape or position.
To rectify this problem, the Planning Board has met extra hours to reread, revise and further clarify the village's sign laws.
"It's not so much that there was anything particularly wrong with (the existing laws)," Planning Board Chairman Kenneth Slaugenhoupt said Wednesday. "We had run into a couple of confusing interpretations in looking at some of the sign work we had done before. We thought it could be dressed up and cleaned up a bit.
"It also didn't address some of the more modern technology, such as the LED sign, which, as you see, we came to the conclusion, with discussions with the trustees and board, we're not ready for that, either.
"We're kind of trying to address ... a technology change and a 2013 view of what we want to see happen in the village in the next few years.
"We're also having some consistent problems in getting applicants to provide all the necessary information. And so we took this opportunity to not only redraft the sign law, but also to prepare a new application, which will kind of lead them by the nose step by step so that when they come to us, hopefully, they will know what they can and cannot do. And give us all information that we can judge, based upon the criteria in the law, a yes or no, and take care of the action the same night."
Ultimately, "We wanted to review it so that we could hopefully get rid of some of the problems we've been experiencing," Slaugenhoupt said. Those problems oftentimes lead to a visit or a letter from the village zoning officer.
If a business has too many signs, the wrong kind of sign (A-frame or sandwich boards are all but out at this point), or a flashing sign, not only is that owner violating the sign regulations, but he is unknowingly encouraging more new business owners to follow suit.
Many times, a motion to approve a new business owner's sign is tabled, as the applicant, unaware he needs board approval to proceed, simply skips a Planning Board meeting. There are also times where a new business owner will come in and speak to the board ... after posting a sign. In those cases, the sign often requires revision or an outright change.
"We wanted to review it so that we could hopefully get rid of some of the problems we've been experiencing," Slaugenhoupt said.
Planning Board members were at the point Monday where the Village Board could approve their work during the trustees' monthly board meeting. The Village Board opted to table that vote, however, seeking more time to meet with the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
"It's one of the most difficult things," Slaugenhoupt said. "Rewriting law is not the type of thing most private citizens do, day in and day out, so we took our time to try and understand the best way to clarify the thoughts we had."
When the new sign regulations are voted into law, Slaugenhoupt said his board hopes to have "A nice, clean, clear sign law, where people come in, they're advised when they come in that they need to do this. They've got an application that leads them to the process. And we're going to use our zoning enforcement officer as a guide to guide them in the preparation of it.
"He will have the ability to have a conversation with them before they just kind of blindly give us a blank sheet of paper and come in or don't come in."
"The best thing we want to do is stop tabling these sign decisions and handle them in one night," Slaugenhoupt said. "That's what we hope to be able to do."
Surprisingly, village business owners, who stand to be affected the most by changes to the law, have had little input on the revision process.
When asked if he had heard from Lewiston's retailers and restaurateurs, Slaugenhoupt said no.
"And very few of them came to the public hearing," he said.
Moreover, Slaugenhoupt has not received any formal correspondence from the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce.
Trustees are planning a time or times to meet with Slaugenhoupt and the planning and zoning board members to finalize the sign law changes.
Proposed sign law changes/revisions
Some of the proposed sign law changes/revisions include:
•"No sandwich board signs of any size, shape or design shall be permitted with the public rights of way of village streets, nor on private property."
•"No LED signs of any size, shape or design shall be permitted with the public rights of way of village streets, nor on private property."
•"No signs shall be placed on the roof of any building or project above roof line."
•"No sign shall be erected in the Village of Lewiston unless it is specifically permitted under this section. If a sign is not specifically permitted in this section it shall constitute a prohibited sign."
These law changes/revisions will not take affect until and unless approved by the Village Board of Trustees.