Sign ruling could affect businesses village-wide

SARANAC LAKE – This village’s Zoning Board of Appeals ruled Thursday night that full-size window decals at two local businesses are signs that violate the village sign code – a code that, now that it’s being enforced, could have ramifications for dozens of business owners.

The ZBA voted unanimously to determine that window decals at the Tri-Lakes Center for Independent Living and Eye Care for the Adirondacks are considered signs under village code. The board subsequently decided that the signs meet the definition of a window sign; that measure passed 3-1, with Shawn Boyer opposed.

Some board members said they shared the frustrations expressed by business owners and stressed that their job is to interpret the law as it is written. The village is currently working on a new code.

“I know this is a huge porcupine for the village,” Boyer said. “I just want you guys to be assured that the code is being repaired as we speak. When there’s comment for the code, I would suggest that you guys gather everybody you can get to come to the public comment.”

The rulings mean that those two business owners will have to apply for a permit, according to village Code Enforcement Officer Tom Worthington. They will likely get rejected, he said, and then have to apply to the ZBA for a variance.

The village 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.” A window sign is one that is inside a building but intended to be viewed by the public from the outside. The village’s code limits window signs to 2 square feet.

In nearby Lake Placid, only neon window signs are limited to 2 feet. Other window signs are limited to 20 percent of the window’s area, according to Lake Placid Code Enforcement Officer Jim Morganson.

Cory Rothamel, owner of Blue Line Sports, said the sign laws will discourage people from starting businesses in Saranac Lake.

The debate over the definition of a sign was prompted by anonymous complaints about window decals at TLCIL, Eye Care and Upstate Vinyl Graphics. Worthington issued violations to those businesses.

During a public hearing prior to the board’s ruling, TLCIL Executive Director Nathan Cox said he conducted his own survey of village businesses and found that 37 have signs that violate the code because of their size. Richard Schmidt, owner of Upstate Vinyl Graphics, which was also given a notice for violating the sign law, said Worthington will be busy enforcing the code because of the ZBA’s decision.

ZBA member Patricia Hillman said she thinks the signs at both businesses could be considered “prohibited signs” under village code.

“Under ‘prohibited signs’ it says, ‘signs placed upon a structure in any manner so as to disfigure or conceal any window, door or fire escape,'” she said.

Hillman noted that decals at both businesses prevent people from looking inside the buildings.

Cox disagreed, noting that the decals provide privacy to customers.

It cost TLCIL and Eye Care $175 each to seek an interpretation from the ZBA. If they choose to apply for permits – which Worthington said will most likely be rejected – it will cost another $50. To seek a variance to keep their signs, they must pay $250.