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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 11, 2008
First Amendment rights upheld
By Jo E. Prout
VOORHEESVILLE Signs promoting a 50,000-square-foot cap on commercial development have been appearing, and disappearing, in and around the village here.
The signs, the size of election posters, were put up last week, according to Katy O’Rourke, one of the sign coordinators for the cap movement.
As a town committee looks at revising commercial zoning in the wake of the Sphere Group’s proposal for a 750,000-square-foot retail mall in New Scotland, a grassroots group, New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development, which supports stores capped at 50,000 square feet, is distributing the signs.
As soon as the signs went up, she said, some village residents were asked to take them down.
“Here we are trying to participate in government and let our feelings about town planning be known, and they’re putting the clamp down on us,” O’Rourke said.
Village Building Inspector Gerald Gordinier said that there was a misunderstanding about the lawful placement of the signs.
“We didn’t remove any signs,” he said. In one instance, code enforcement officer Glenn Hebert spoke directly with a homeowner and asked him to take down his sign, Gordinier said. Hebert left business cards in the doors at other homes with signs on their lawns, Gordinier said.
“Our zoning law doesn’t list those as an approved sign,” he said. Gordinier said that he contacted an attorney with the New York Conference of Mayors and found that the signs were allowed under the First Amendment. Sign regulations based on content of the signs would likely be found unconstitutional, according to a legal column in an Association of Towns’ newsletter.
Gordinier said that the following day he contacted by phone or e-mail anyone who had been asked to remove signs. Hebert returned to the homeowner with whom he had spoken and told him that the sign could be replaced, Gordinier said.
In an e-mail statement sent to residents and town officials last Friday, Gordinier wrote, “I have determined that the moratorium signs (The Cap) that are in place on private property are allowed to remain….Thanks to all for assistance in this matter and patience afforded me while I conducted my research.”
“He was very professional,” O’Rourke said about Gordinier. “He got right on it.”
She wondered why the situation arose at all.
“Unless they were fielding complaints, I don’t know why the building inspector should take it upon himself,” she said. “Why would he single out our signs?”
One village resident, Brian Nopper, wrote a letter to The Enterprise about the removal of his sign, which he said was taken down while he was away. Nopper said that, during a previous election cycle, a political sign had been removed. He thought this was the same situation, he said.
“Someone took it off my lawn and put it at my doorstep,” Nopper told The Enterprise. Nopper said that he had called Village Hall about the removal, but that he did not leave his name or number. A week later, he had not been told he could replace his sign, he said.
Signs outside the village have started disappearing, too, O’Rourke said. One, on Route 85, was knocked over and repositioned by a road crew, she said. It soon disappeared, she said.
“These are all completely unrelated to the village,” she said. “It is very disheartening, considering this is America.”