Window sign dispute may have village-wide implications

SARANAC LAKE – The village Zoning Board of Appeals is wrestling with an interpretation of village code that board members say could impact the signage of numerous businesses throughout the community.

Village Code Enforcement Officer Tom Worthington recently notified the Tri-Lakes Center for Independent Living, Eye Care for the Adirondacks and Upstate Vinyl Graphics that their vinyl, full-size window decals violate village signage regulations.

After the violation notices were issued, the TLCIL and Eye Care for the Adirondacks asked the village Zoning Board of Appeals for an interpretation of the term “window sign” in the village’s regulations. The ZBA held a public hearing on the requests Thursday night.

Noting that the board’s determination will set precedent throughout the village, Worthington read passages from the village’s sign law aloud at the meeting. He said the code defines a sign as “any announcement, declaration, demonstration, display, illustration, insignia, or visually communicative or expressive device used to advertise or promote the interests of any person when the same is placed in view of the general public.”

The code defines a window sign as “a sign inside of a building but intended to be viewed from the outside.” Based on those definitions, Worthington said the decals are signs.

TLCIL Executive Director Nathan Cox said their window decal, which includes the name of the center and lists the services it provides, is not a sign because the vinyl is applied to the outside of the window and is not inside the building.

“It may be a technicality, but we don’t meet the definition of a window sign,” Cox said. He also said the TLCIL’s window decal is “tasteful” and makes the center easier to locate for people who have visual impairment.

Steve Schmidt of Upstate Vinyl Graphics argued that the decals are window treatments, not signs. His company produced and installed the decal for the TLCIL and installed the ones at Eye Care for the Adirondacks. Schmidt was also surprised to hear during the meeting that his business had been served a violation notice, which he said he didn’t get.

Some ZBA members felt the window decals fit the sign definition because they were being used to “advertise or promote the interests” of the businesses or facilities. Board member Patricia Hillman also said the decals fit the code’s definition of prohibited signs, which is “a sign placed upon a structure in any manner as to disfigure or conceal any window.”

“In my opinion, when you look at these walls with these very large, billboard-kind-of printouts, they don’t look like windows any more. They look like a billboard, or they look like a wall,” Hillman said. “The window has been concealed.

“I think one thing we have to think about is the fact that we’re a very small town, and we don’t want to be a city,” Hillman added later. “We don’t want to be a New York City with signs all over the place. We want to be a cute, small, rural, upper Adirondack small town.”

Complicating the issue is another provision of the code, which was enacted in 1994, that limits window signs to 2 square feet.

If the ZBA upholds Worthington’s determination, board member Shawn Boyer said numerous other businesses throughout the village could also be in violation.

“The fact that our law, for some reason, states that a window sign can only be 2 square feet seems ridiculous, in my opinion,” he said. “I want to know why there’s just two people here tonight, because if you really got down and dirty, you could probably pull 40 businesses in here.”

Worthington said he received anonymous complaints about the three locations, so they were the only ones that were issued violation notices.

ZBA Chairman David Trudeau suggested making a determination that the decals are signs that don’t meet village standards, but then allow the locations to seek a variance.

“It’s in a window, it is a sign and it’s not 2 square feet, so in that respect there’s a problem,” Trudeau said. “However, we could try to get around that by having them come back for a variance instead of having to destroy what you payed lots of money for.”

Cox said that would be an expensive proposition for his nonprofit center, which paid a $175 fee to seek an interpretation from the ZBA and would have to pay another $250 to apply for a variance.

Trudeau then suggested, and the board agreed, to table the issue until the next ZBA meeting, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on March 28. He and Boyer said that would give the board time to involve other people, like village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans, in a broader review of the village sign code.

“This is going to affect businesses all over the village,” Trudeau said. “We’ll try to figure this out as quickly as we can.”

Evans told the Enterprise this morning that the ZBA’s ruling could have implications for businesses that use these kinds of window decals, but he said the village isn’t necessarily going to issue violation notices to other businesses in the community because their window signs are bigger than 2 square feet.

“There’s been a window sign law in effect since 1994, and there are signs in and out of compliance, and I don’t know how many,” Evans said. “As the village has resources, gets complaints and makes its priorities, they’ll be addressed as they always have.”

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or