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Pittsfield Council OKs Lawn Signs on City Treeline
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
02:37AM / Thursday, October 14, 2021
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Ordinance & Rules rejected Councilor Peter White's petition to allow signs in resident-maintained rights of way but the full council supported him.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- Lawn signs will now be allowed on the city-owned rights of way along sidewalks.

The City Council on Tuesday passed a petition to rescind Section 4.9 of the City Code Chapter 25 --relating to the placement of poster signs -- that was submitted by Councilor at Large Peter White.

It passed in a 7-3 vote with Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell, Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey, and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio in opposition.

Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo was absent from the meeting.

This did not follow the Ordinances and Rule's negative recommendation, as the panel rejected the petition last week.

White argued that residents should be allowed to express their freedom of speech on the city-owned treeline because they are required to maintain it.

"This petition, to me it's just stating that if we expect them to use their own resources to mow it, their own resources to shovel it, and we will fine them if they don't do either of those things, then we let them have freedom of speech on it," he said.

He added that the ordinance is often not enforced and there are many residents who aren't aware that signs are prohibited in the city treeline.

Council members had 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.

Clemons made it clear that the communication was not just about political signs, but all kinds of lawn signs.

Maffuccio and Connell were vocal about their opposition to rescinding the section, citing possible safety hazards because, when queried, City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta said it would make the city more liable for any injury caused by the signs.

"If we take this out of our ordinance that protects the city of Pittsfield being the liable party lost over a political sign or a contract or sign, do you really want to take that risk?" Maffuccio said.

If a penalty is found for an out-of-place sign, residents can be subject to a $50 fee for the first offense, $100 for the next, and $300 for the next and subsequent offenses.

Connell said Clemon's department is one of the few in the city that actually makes money to cover expenses.

"I think we should leave it the way it is, I just feel that this would be creating more problems with public safety, also like Maffuccio said, a liability issue for the city," he added. "It may not be working one hundred percent right now, but it can be enforced if it is enforced, even if it's sporadically, there is a penalty to pay."

Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon said she cannot believe that the city wants to consider making money off of fining people for where they put signs.

"Fining people is another tax, we are taxing people for putting up signs, and there are most definitely reasons to find people when it causes true and real danger, but these are signs," she said.

"I cannot believe that we want to consider making money off of fining people for where they put their signs. That just seems inhumane to me it seems like a weird way to tap, people on the other end to bring that money back into the general fund."

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III asked Pagnotta if the city could also get sued if a resident left a lawnmower on the right of way after mowing it and caused another person to trip on it. Pagnotta confirmed that the city could also be sued in this situation.

Persip said he would hate to take time out of the building inspector's department to make sure that signs are in code.

"I need to make sure buildings are safe, not necessarily if a sign is on the city property," he said to Clemons.

He agreed with one of Connell's previous statements that a sign should be taken down if obstructs view and poses a hazard but thought that rescinding the section was worth a shot and could be reinstated if things get out of control.

Kavey asked Clemons how he feels about removing the section and Clemons said he believes that the sign placement should be under his department's jurisdiction.

"I had been attempting to enforce the public right of way signs, among other problems with signs, it is a free for all out there, and it's hard to expect the citizens or other businesses or the contractors' signs to abide by the rules if the candidates are not," Clemons said.

"And it's not candidates, I know that the candidates don't tell their constituents to put it out in the public right of way and they just put it there because it's more visible, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a homeowner to put the sign on their own property, I don't think that's an unreasonable thing to ask."

Though White petitioned for Section 4.9 to be removed based on the communication the councilors received, he added that the sign ordinance is not clearly written and could include better definitions for different signs such as temporary signs, posters, contractor signs.

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