By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Depending on the point of view, signs placed throughout a town or village are either extremely important for advertising or an eyesore.
Businesses, especially restaurants, and their owners rely on them to draw attention to a product, to distinguish themselves. But loose signs on sidewalks can cause injury, so they're often heavily regulated by municipalities.
Historic villages like Lewiston pay even more attention to sign regulations, as businesses must fit into a designated motif. So, the Lewiston Village Board, close to updating its own sign law, spent time during Monday's meeting listening to input from residents and business owners about the proposed changes.
"I think there's a place in the village for LED signs," resident and business owner Emery Simon said, speaking of a type of sign the new law would outlaw if adopted as written. "Like the bowling alley. It's in the back, hidden away so well, even I forgot it was there for 20 years. There is an area for these signs and an area where these signs wouldn't fit. The historic district wouldn't look good. If I put one on the (Lewiston) Stone House, it wouldn't look good because it's supposed to be a historic building. And if the Frontier House gets restored, I don't think you'd want to have an LED sign in front of it."
LED and "sandwich board" signs were the major focus of discussion, as they could face some of the harshest regulations. Lit signs using the bright LED bulbs weren't originally addressed in the planned regulations, according to Planning Board Chairman Kenneth Slagenhoupt, who's authoring the new regulation. But he's reexamining it to include harsh restrictions.
The "sandwich boards," or A-frame signs, are a different story. There are regulations in place currently, but officials have said they're not strict enough. Currently, "sandwich boards" can be displayed in front of a business for 21 days prior to an event and seven days after without facing any fines.
But the new proposal eliminates this. It eliminates the signs altogether. And some Lewiston business owners, Simon included, don't like the proposal.
"There should be some sort of regulation," Simon said. "Like a fee every time a sign's left out. If I had to pay $50 every time I forgot to pull my sign in, you better bet I'm bringing my sign in. Money talks."
A complete ban on A-frame signs, which are usually obstructing sidewalks for effectiveness in advertising, would also have an adverse effect on the village government itself.
Marianne Gittermann, director of the village's recreation department, said getting rid of the signs would hurt her department's ability to advertise events the day they're happening. She said she puts her sign out at the start of her events and is quick to bring it in as soon as it's over. But the sign's still being used, which would break the law if the ban is adopted.
So she pleaded with the five-member village board to leave the signs alone or find a more inclusive way of regulating their use.
"As a part of the village, we would definitely follow the law," she said. "But as a part of the village, we also don't have any money to advertise. We rely on our sign. I'd like you to reconsider 'sandwich board' signs."
A final law isn't expected until at least September, as Slagenhoupt finishes his work on it. But finding a way to regulate signs to keep them out of the public right-of-way while allowing businesses and event planners to advertise is a tricky task.
Board members were concerned of any law's effectiveness, questioning how allowing A-frame signs would accomplish what needs to be done.
"It's a fine line between business friendly and trying to maintain the ambiance of the village," Trustee Bruce Sutherland said.Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.