Andes board ruling stirs hard feelings over signage

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By Matthew J. Perry
Town planning and zoning boards of appeal are not known as hotbeds of drama. They tend go about their business quietly, mostly because that business, no matter how important it may be to a municipality, is rarely exciting.
But last month members of the Andes Zoning Board of Appeals made a decision that still has the community buzzing, often with anger and frustration. What could have touched off a fractious debate?
A sign. Or a mural. It depends on whom you ask.
Al Bradbury, the owner of Alfalfa Antiques, is the owner of the object, which town officials have declared is, in fact, a sign, and thus subject to zoning guidelines. These state that no sign in the community shall be larger than 40 square feet without a variance—or exception—being granted by the zoning board of appeals.
Bradbury’s sign, measuring 96 square feet, is visible only to those traveling west on Route 28 since it hangs on the side of the building, not the front. It is a simulation of a large window adorned with lace curtains, an oil lamp, and the word ‘antiques’ spanning its full width. It’s a “lovely mural,” and not an advertisement for his business, says Bradbury. He points out that a sign advertising Alfalfa’s presence hangs above the mural, close to the roofline.
Nevertheless, Bradbury sought a variance, but on Oct. 20 the zoning board of appeals voted not to grant it.
The controversy began almost a year ago. Soon after opening for business last November, Bradbury was told by Code Enforcement Officer Art Short that the object in question was a sign, a too-large sign, and it had to come down.
Bradbury did not comply. Furthermore, a review of Andes’ zoning laws convinced him there was no reason for compliance. While signs are, indeed, subject to extensive regulation, mural art is not. “There isn’t one word about displaying art,” Bradbury says.
Several months passed, during which the town council and the town’s attorney reviewed the matter.
What made the issue tricky is the fact that the term ‘sign’ is open to interpretation. As it turned out, town attorney David Merzig advised Short that this was no mural. “Clearly, the main purpose here. . .is to attract attention to the business at that location, and does constitute a sign,” he wrote in a document obtained by the Catskill Mountain News. Short’s original description now had town government backing it up.
“The sign says exactly what his business is,” Short maintains.
Bradbury states that he was then advised to request a variance. Although a time-consuming process, it seemed likely to succeed. The zoning board of appeals rarely denies variances that are filed properly.
He completed extensive paperwork, sent letters to neighboring businesses —twice — and waited. The business community strongly favored keeping the sign. Several claim that it advertises the district, not just Bradbury’s business. No one seemed to object to it on aesthetic grounds, and no one has maintained that it presents a traffic hazard.
But on Oct. 20, the full zoning board of appeals met with Short, Merzig and Bradbury in attendance. The board could not think of a hardship allowance that applied, and voted 3-2 in favor of removal.
But two weeks later, little has been resolved. Bradbury was given 10 days to remove the sign, but he has no intention of doing so. Short states he is not in a position to force action. “It will go to the court next.”
But why remove something most of the community favors? So far, town officials are sticking to the rules and the vote to explain their position. One stated that it is not a question of liking or not liking the sign; a community has to set rules and not everything will fit between the guidelines.
Bradbury, meanwhile, struggles with bitter feelings. “I have found the people of Andes to be an absolute delight,” he says. “The zoning board? It was no from the go.”