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Large signs could be banned under Henderson zoning law

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HENDERSON — A handful of business owners in the town would be forced to downsize freestanding and commercial signs under a proposed zoning law, on which the Town Council will seek feedback from residents during a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The proposed update of the law, which was last revised in August 2007, also includes new sections on solar arrays and wind turbines. The proposed revisions are available online.

The maximum size of freestanding signs in the town’s commercial districts would be halved, from 32 to 16 square feet, under the law. The maximum size of commercial signs — defined as those attached to buildings — would decrease from 48 to 32 square feet in the agricultural district and from 32 to 24 square feet in the business residential district.

Signs that don’t meet the criteria “must be replaced by a sign conforming to the regulations for its district within seven years,” according to the proposed law.

Town Supervisor John J. Culkin said the intent of the stricter sign rules, developed by a committee that revised the law over the past year, was to ensure the town preserves its rural character.

“I think it was toward that overall goal of maintaining the rural character of the town and making it an attractive area,” he said, adding that the law likely would affect “a handful of businesses,” whose signs won’t meet new criteria.

“If signs are too big, they’ll need to make them smaller,” Mr. Culkin said. “I imagine people are going to weigh in and give us additional feedback about this.”

Resident Gary L. Rhodes, owner of Rhodes Greenhouse and Alexander Corners General Store, said he has emailed board members on four occasions to get an explanation about the signage changes, but he received no response. Mr. Rhodes said he has three freestanding signs outside his businesses at 7185 Route 3.

“I have three beautiful signs for my businesses, and it will be a cold day in Henderson before I change those,” the 63-year-old said. “There has been nothing wrong with these signs for years, and all of a sudden there’s something wrong with them? If you’re going to make people have a sign the size of half a sheet of plywood, then you might as well stick it outside the back of your building.”

Mr. Rhodes suggested that the zoning committee should have sought input from businesses by sending out a survey.

Robert E. Aliasso Jr., a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals who is on the committee, said the revised signage rules were hotly debated before a consensus was reached. He said some members opposed the rules, which would affect three to six business owners who have large signs, including Mr. Rhodes.

“We were trying to prevent large billboards, and as a group what we wanted was to provide a more appealing and attractive character in the community,” Mr. Aliasso said. “And there are some signs that provide safety challenges at corners. So we wanted them to be large enough to be an off-premise sign, but not large enough to be a billboard.”

Mr. Aliasso said that if the rules take effect and business owners wish to keep large signs that don’t meet criteria, they could apply for a variance with the ZBA to seek approval to do so.

“The town isn’t saying you can’t put up a bigger sign, because there’s always the appeal process,” he said.

New sections in the law on “small wind energy tower systems” and solar arrays are designed to provide specific rules for what districts will permit alternative energy systems.

Last year, a special wind turbine committee developed guidelines to rewrite the town’s law, aligning it with state Agriculture and Markets Law. Although the town approved those revised rules last year, Mr. Culkin said, they cannot officially take effect until they are approved in the zoning law.

Mr. Culkin said that the rules were designed to allow turbines on agricultural land but restrict them in residential areas. In 2012, the town approved a plan to allow a wind turbine generator to be built on a dairy farm owned by Harvey K. and Sue Grimshaw at 11375 Whitney Road. In that situation, the town originally had argued that its local law prohibited the construction of private wind turbines altogether; it changed its mind, however, after concluding that exceptions could be made on agricultural property.

“The belief is that farmers that want to save money on energy costs should be allowed to erect a single windmill,” Mr. Culkin said. “So the committee was formed and came up with a way to control sizes and noise.”

Regulations preclude wind turbines from being built in residential areas, Mr. Culkin said, because of the minimum amount of surrounding land required.

The solar rules proposed by the town, which were recommended by the Jefferson County Planning Department, are compatible with those offered in municipalities across the state, Mr. Culkin said.

The law also includes numerous definitions that were deemed lacking, along with new requirements for big-box retailers, self-storage facilities, drive-through businesses and convenience stores. The intent of those changes was to provide additional clarity so the Planning Board and ZBA would not have to make decisions based on different interpretations of the law, Mr. Culkin said.

“They kept running into issues that needed to be interpreted or should have been covered in the existing law,” he said. “It happened often enough that we felt we should revise the law so that it’s clearer for people who want to build or modify something.”

Zoning Officer Eric C. Sheldon and ZBA Chairman Gerald Tackley could not be reached Monday for comment.

on the web

Henderson zoning law: http://wdt.me/MtVSC6

Proposed zoning law

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