In Albany, a mayor’s task force has been working on lowering or removing hurdles that stand in the way of doing business and creating jobs. The group has been wrestling with, among other things, the city’s regulations affecting signs. And there the task force has set itself an almost impossible task.
It has had to deal with complexities such as whether A-frame signs should be allowed to be set up in front of businesses only during the day or all the time. And how many should be allowed? How about signs for businesses that are inside other businesses? Should they be allowed signs that don’t count against the limit on outside signs on buildings? These are limits not just on the number of signs but on the aggregate size of them all. So, should both those limits apply to the building or the business?
And then, what exactly is a sign? Mere language or imagery does not count, for the authorities are barred from controlling words or messages under the state and federal free-speech guarantees. So if someone paints his entire store front with the words “Everything on sale all the time,” does that constitute a sign? Or is it just paint?
Albany city officials still think that regulation of signs is necessary, or at least the city manager does, according to the minutes of the last task force meeting, though they are considering relaxing the rules. But how about this: For the most part, unless they obscure sight lines in traffic, signs are not a matter of life and death. Maybe the city could take a deep breath and trust business people, property owners and customers to decide on their own — through the free play of the marketplace — how many signs are put up, and how big they should be. (hh)