Sign clash is more than bad taste

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:07

    MILFORD - Milford is reopening that can of worms, better known as the local sign ordinance. Following a complaint from shop owners, Linda and Dan Fields, the borough council on Monday directed the planning commission to look at the handling of temporary banners and signs in the borough ordinance. But Council President Matthew Osterberg went on to encourage any business owners with issues or questions about their signs to come before the planners. “The last thing you want is to finish one thing and have somebody else come in and complain about something else,” he said. Coming amid growing discontent raised by a recent 73 percent increase in electric rates, the invitation could open a wide ranging discussion about the borough’s business atmosphere. Some have said they believe Milford is not business friendly, but worry about complaining publicly, for fear of official retribution. “We were informed we were in violation of an ordinance we weren’t aware of and that we find prohibitive to business,” Linda Fields told the council. The Fields, owners of Denege’s Clothing Store at the Upper Mill Shops, said Zoning Officer Duane Kuhn told them that an outdoor ‘sale’ banner they hung was in violation and recommended bringing any questions about it to the council. (See photo on page 9.) “It’s the same banner on the same hooks that’s hung there for two decades,” said Dan Fields. The couple explained the sign is used for change-of-season sales and the store has long-time customers who have come to schedule their shopping around the appearance of that banner. “Every clothing store in the country has the same sale,” he said. The Fields said they have been told that a banner needs a permit, may only be used once and for a limit of just 15 days. “You are allowed different signs, but not the same one,” Borough Solicitor John Klemeyer said. Temporary signs on the inside of windows must be ink on paper and hang for no more than 30 days. The allowable size of both banners and interior signs is based on the overall size of windows and exterior frontage. The lawyer explained the existing ordinance was not decided arbitrarily. After abuses of earlier laws, the new law came after more than a year of discussion between borough planners and members of the business community. “It was not willy-nilly,” he said. “The enforcement is willy-nilly. This is the same sign for two decades,” Fields repeated. “You can speed down the street every day but you don’t have a right to do it. When you get caught, you get caught,” Klemeyer replied. Ron Heller of Gifford & White is one of Denege’s neighbors at the Upper Mill Shops, although he admitted he really doesn’t know them. “I spend most of my time working. I don’t get out a lot.” Heller and his wife Xenia have owned and operated the business for two years. They bought the business in part because of the historic location. “Gifford & White is Milford,” he said. They are having the same debate with borough over the use of a banner. “It’s about the permits,” Heller said. “They want you to buy the permit and no one has ever had a permit for the sale banner in this store,” he said. He had a copy of the four-page sign permit application. “This is the same form I’d fill out if I wanted to build an expansion on the building,” he said. Despite the problems, he believes the location is good because people who commute all week don’t have time to shop except on the weekends. Sales have been down in recent years, but Heller blames that on the general economy. “But when I put up my sale banner, I’ll get a 20-percent bump in sales.” “What are there... a dozen holidays a year? I want to be able to put up my banner for every one. That doesn’t mean I will, but I want to be able to,” he said. The Borough Planning Commission is expected to hear sign ordinance concerns on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m.