Andy Simek | Democrat
COLLEEN WASHINGTON IS the owner of Colleen’s Hairstyling, a store hidden away in a tiny nook on Main Street in Liberty. Washington said that she was told to take down her lighted sign recently. It had been up for years and let people know that she had a business there.
Signs of Strife In Liberty
By Andy Simek
LIBERTY August 31, 2007 Steve Clark is the owner of Diamond GraphX, a sign making business in the Village of Liberty.
Recently Clark has been the voice of the disenchanted business owners who are claiming that Liberty’s Sign Review Committee (SRC) is using unfair practices in their legislation.
Some of the complaints are that the SRC is making it unnecessarily difficult to put up new signs, is making outrageous laws for the ones that are already up and is involved in some “dirty dealings” with favoritism.
In the wake of all this controversy, Clark has started passing around a petition to replace the board with people who have either a background in art or architecture, a requirement set by the local law which is, according to Clark, one more violation to tack onto the board’s record.
The petition, as it now stands, has over 300 signatures, 230 of which were collected in a day-and-a-half.
Sign Committee Chair Dara Smith could not be reached for comment on the issues at hand, but her husband, Village Mayor William “Rube” Smith offered to speak on the behalf of the SRC.
“I believe that the business owners are the ones creating the problem,” Smith said. “Not a single one has come to a village board meeting to complain. I also think that Steve [Clark] has a problem with some of the personalities on the board.”
Smith added that they are more than willing to work with the business owners and that the SRC has to, and does, act in compliance with the law.
One of Clark’s complaints is that, “The only people allowed to vote on the sign laws are those who live in the actual village. Most of the business owners live in the surrounding area and didn’t get to vote on the laws that would be affecting them most directly.”
Clark also noted that the SRC only meets once a month, “which makes it very hard to get anything done.”
One of the laws in question is banning the use of light-up signs of any sort, which will, according to Clark, severely hurt business in the evening when potential customers won’t know whether a store is open, or whether it even exists.
A source of outrage pertaining to this issue in particular involves the Munson Diner, which achieved fame when featured in the “Seinfeld” TV series and was later moved to Liberty from NYC.
The label [of historical landmark] was grounds for the SRC to approve two large neon signs to stay on top of the building.
Clark’s real problem with this is one of the investors of that property is Allan Berube, the secretary of the SRC.
“What we see here,” Clark said, “is a case of favoritism that violates their own laws, and this is not the only case.”
Clark says that banners and free-standing signs are also against the law, “but the town puts them up like they’re going out of style.”
Berube declined to comment on the situation.
But according to Clark and several other business owners the biggest problem is the issue of poor communication and the nitpicking over details that new signs are submitted to.
On the first count, Clark points to Pam Winters, the village’s code enforcement officer.
“I like Pam very much,” Clark said, but added that she has given several people the approval on a project, and later on, they get a notice that they are in violation of the village sign code.
One such incident occurred with Kathy and Russ Armato, owners of the Steps in Faith Christian Bookstore.
“We bought a sandwich board to put on the corner so people would know we were here,” Kathy said, “but then we got a letter saying that it was considered a billboard, which are banned in the village.
“We’re just a small business trying to scrape by,” she added, “and we threw away $100.”
Clark also sited several examples where signs were denied for reasons he claims are “absolutely ridiculous.”
“Fast Tax [the business next door to Diamond GraphX] was denied their design because the board didn’t like the shade of green he was using. Whatever happened to freedom of expression?
“This sort of treatment is unfair and unjust. They’re going to put a lot of people out of business,” Clark said.
Colleen Washington is the owner of Colleen’s Hairstyling, a store hidden away in a tiny nook on Main Street.
Washington said that she was told to take down her lighted sign recently that had been up for years and which let people know that she had a business there.
“I got three violations: one for my lighted sign, another for my window sign, which I took down almost immediately and then another for the sign that belonged to the business that was here before me that was underneath that sign. It’s a little ridiculous, don’t you think?”
She is one of many others who believe that the village should stay out of their business when it comes to how they advertise.
She said, “This is my freedom. It’s in the first amendment: freedom of expression. It’s just not fair.”