A local Boy Scout troop have become publically critical of the Town of Bethlehem’s temporary sign law, saying the rules have made a dent in sales at its annual fundraiser.
Members from Bethlehem Troop 75 said sales for their annual Sportsmart event held each year at Bethlehem High School decreased by 15 percent in 2012. On Wednesday, Oct. 9, Scouts and troop leaders said they believe sales were down because they were unable to advertise along major roadways due to the town’s temporary sign law.
“Route 32 is one of our most effective and visible places to put these signs,” said Scout Chris Schimdt, adding the troop doesn’t want to see sales continue to decrease this year.
The town passed a new sign law in June of 2012 following complaints from some nonprofit groups that their signs were being removed by the town. The old law did not allow for signs to be placed in the right-of-way of any road owned by the town, county or state, but because of vagueness in the wording and poor enforcement, many believed otherwise.
The new version of the law allows temporary signs to be placed on private, non-commercial property at the discretion of the property owner for up to three months. Temporary signs, such as signs advertising community events and political signs, cannot be placed on town-, county- or state-owned roads and can be no larger than 6 square feet. The Town Board also shrank the proposed right-of-way distance in the law for signs on private property from 15 feet to 5 feet.
Councilman Jeffrey Kuhn, who did much of the research into the temporary sign law, along with Town Attorney Jim Potter, attempted to explain the law to the Boy Scouts who attended the Wednesday meeting. He said a large portion of the law remains the same as it has for years, but is now being better enforced to ensure fairness.
Town Board members said they had wanted to allow nonprofits and community groups to be able to put up their signs on public property, but found it would be unconstitutional for the town to enforce the law for political signs but to look the other way for signs they were in favor of.
Some of the older boys who attended the meeting seemed to understand Kuhn’s explanation, while other younger Scouts appeared not to.
Supervisor John Clarkson said he would be happy to put the Boy Scouts in touch with other community groups who have found ways to work around the sign law, while Councilman Bill Reinhardt offered up his own yard as a location to place signs after election season is over. They also said another “loophole” is to physically hold up the signs, but Town Board members said they do not suggest kids do so along busy roadways or without adults present.
Peter Lauricella, the troop’s adult spokesperson and co-chairman of the Sportsmart organization committee, said as a lawyer himself he disagreed with Kuhn’s interpretation of the law because it limits First Amendment rights.
Kuhn then read from the State of New York’s 75-page Municipal Control of Signs document, describing a specific court decision that upheld a town’s sign law because it specifically enforced the same restrictions of all temporary signs and not just those of a political nature.
Lauricella said he understood the concept but still feels all signs should be allowed.
Town Board members said they do not plan to make changes to the sign law, but vowed to help the Boy Scouts with their advertising efforts.
Kim Lawler, co-chairwoman of the Hamagrael (Elementary School) Craft Fair, spoke at the meeting and said she was originally against the law, but her group found a way to make their event successful and did not see a drop in sales.
“For what was proposed initially, I find it fair that you, the political committee here, do they same thing that we do. Nothing more, nothing less,” she said. She offered to speak with the Boy Scouts after the meeting.
Republican Supervisor Candidate Fred DiMaggio stood at the meeting to say he was still opposed to the law. He also agreed with a local business owner that commercial property owners should be able to display temporary signs. The Town Board is looking into that portion of the law.
Following the meeting, Troop Leader Felix Rosa told his scouts he was proud of them.
“What you saw today was your government at work,” said Rosa outside Town Hall. “We might not have liked their answer, but they were respectful, they listed to what we had to say, and they gave us suggestions.”
Clarkson later provided the group with contacts of local nonprofits and community organizers who hold fundraisers, and said many local politicians have offered their yards as sites to host the Boy Scouts’ signs.
Sportsmart will be held on Saturday, Nov. 23 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Bethlehem High School. The event at which the public can purchase new and used sports equipment has been a major source of funds for the troop for years.