PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Ordinances and Rules Subcommittee voted earlier this week to not allow lawn signs on the public right of way
Councilor at Large Pete White submitted the petition to rescind Section 4.9 of the City Code Chapter 25, which relates to poster signs.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio and Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo voted against the petition, making White the only supporter.
Councilor at Large Earl Persip III and Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey were absent from Monday's meeting.
Because residents are required to mow the treeline of city-owned land between the street and private property, White believes that as a freedom of speech issue, they should be able to put a lawn sign there temporarily.
"The way I see it, freedom of speech, to me, should extend to exactly where we require residents to mow their lawn, and as long as that we are requiring residents to maintain that strip of property. I think they should have the freedom of speech to put up a temporary sign on it," he said.
"And if we're not going to give that to them, maybe we should strictly look at it as city property, and we should stop having the mow it, or give them some sort of rebate on their taxes if they mow it."
Every few years, the city reminds residents that temporary lawn signs are not to be placed in the treeline between a resident's property and the street.
Council members recently received an email from Building Commissioner Jeffrey Clemons observing that he has seen a number of contractor, political, and event signs in violation throughout the community. He asked the councilors to relay the information to other council candidates.
The city code reads that posts should not be placed closer than 5 feet from the lot lines or street line (or, if the distance between a building on the premises and the lot line or street line shall be less than 10 feet, 1/2 of such distance) and are otherwise subject to the same restrictions as other temporary signs.
White said constituents have often asked him why they are subject to being fined for placing a sign in that area if they maintain it.
He observed that these regulations are often not followed by residents but it is also difficult to enforce. Additionally, if it's not enforced equally across the city it could be seen as targeted enforcement, he said.
The petition only calls for rescinding Section 4.9 because White thinks that much of the rest of the sign ordinance, while it needs to be looked at, is not as pressing as this.
"We can ask residents to keep the sign within this and you drive back the next day and it's normally put right back out to the side of the road, and most people have no clue this is on the books," White explained.
"It would be up to, technically I guess the poster owner to go around and, for lack of a better word, police where this is placed, which for anyone who has run a campaign, done a fundraiser, anything with a temporary sign can be very difficult to go and drive the entire city, or even an entire ward, trying to keep these only where this ordinance allows."
He said that for now, it would be easier to eliminate this section and work with the city building inspector to update the sign ordinance.
"A broader conversation needs to be had, but this does not take away from the fact that temporary signs should be removed at a certain point," White clarified, adding that down the line, the city may want to look at requiring the removal of signs around 15 days after the date of an election or event.
Maffuccio did not agree with White's sentiments. He believed the petition was politically driven because of the recent correspondence from the commissioner about lawn signs.
"With all due respect to my colleague, Councilor White, I do not agree with this amendment, or taking it out, and I'll tell you why," he said. "This is politically driven, because last week, a week and a half ago, we got an email telling us that our political signs have to be moved off the street tree line, which is owned by the City of Pittsfield."
He then added that he doesn't like the aesthetics of lawn signs.
"I think, lawn signs are tacky, they make a neighborhood look terrible," Maffuccio said. "There are some neighborhoods that are just cluttered with this stuff, the best time of your life is when the political season's over because the beautiful greenscapes is back and none of these signs are either found in the woods somewhere, all the tree lines, and the whole city."
Signs are a distraction to drivers and that allowing the signs to be in the treeline could put liability hazards on the city, he said.
Maffuccio asked City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta who is liable if someone trips over the signs on city property. After some back and forth, Pagnotta eventually said he agreed that the allowance of the signs on city property would make it "more liable" in the case of injury.
White added that the liability, in his consideration, could be similar to the city requiring residents to mow the treeline property.
He said it was no secret that the councilors were given a reminder of the signs.
"This was politically motivated as far as we all have been out during the season ... but also in that email, it was also referring to other signs and to me for some of the other signs that are in the warning that was given, not naming any specific fundraisers that have happened recently but two mainly come to mind, this would also affect them," he explained.
"So I was looking at a way to have it so the building inspector could focus on things that are, to me, more important than signs, and if you read the rest of the sign ordinance, if something is creating a hazard as far as sightlines, regardless it can be removed, so this would not rescind that portion it would only rescind the portion of having it within this confusing language of not just saying not in the tree line but within five feet of the lot lines."
Though Caccamo voted against the petition he said that he could go either way with it.
"For me personally its a status quo issue, I think there are instances where residents, sort of, unknowingly or mistakenly put signs out whether it's a visibility thing or simply their front yard doesn't allow for the ability to display the yard sign in question, I think it's pretty minor," He explained.
"I feel like those instances are few and far between, I didn't see the email that the Commissioner sent but we know this is a perennial problem and there have been members of the public who have come to open mic at city council meetings to remind candidates that they've observed any number of instances of signs being in that sort of right away green space."
Caccamo added that White has a point in believing that residents should be able to put a sign on land that they maintain.
He questioned what would happen with lawn signs if the section was removed and asked White if the Commissioner had any thoughts about it.
Reportedly, Clemons is afraid of a "free for all" without the section.
Caccamo said that if there is a more concerted effort to curb the signs, he may have voted differently but he believes residents are posting signs non-malicously because they think it is fair and the city is not enforcing the rule harshly or handing out fines.
White said if rescinding the section isn't the answer, which it might not be, he likes having things come to these committees for debate as a more transparent and public way of having the discussion rather than just voicing concerns to the commissioner.
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PITTSFIELD, Mass — Berkshire Community College (BCC) recently released its enrollment data for fall 2021 — a season still impacted by COVID-19, but with a growing number of first-year and continuing students.
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Overall enrollment is up 1.4 percent over 2020
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