With only 26 days remaining before Election Day, it’s inevitable that we’ll see more political signs pop up around town. Sure, Wilton has already had its share of controversy over political signs supporting national candidates, but what are the ways to stay on the right side of the law when it comes to signaling your political support with a sign?
GOOD Morning Wilton talked to zoning enforcement officer Tim Bunting, the Planning & Zoning official in charge of making sure all kinds of temporary signs–including political lawn signs–are posted properly, according to the town regulations. He says there are definitely some things to keep in mind when planting a political post on your property. Whether it’s following town regulations about where and for how long the signs can be posted, it pays to follow the rules. We asked him to give us some political signage Do’s & Don’ts.
Town Property and Political Signs
“We do not allow political signs on town property at all,” says Bunting. “The only signs you’ll see on town property are for non-profit organizations–we allow their signs to be put on the town property on the corner of School Rd. and Danbury Rd., where Minks to Sinks happens every year.”
Part of the reason is liability. “If someone were to trip over it, with the litigious society we’re in, the town could be held liable, if there was a sign on our property that we didn’t take action about,” Bunting explains. There may also be sight line problems if they block motorists’ view at intersections or driveways.
The one place that seems to be an exception for political signs on town property is on Election Day, outside the polling places, when the town political committees will put up an abundance of signs for voters to see as they enter the voting precincts. Following Federal election law, the signs do have to be at least 75 ft. from the marked entrance. But the town allows those signs to be posted, at least for the day, and the political committees seem to make sure the signs are gone the day after Election Day.
Bunting does point out that political signs cannot be attached to utility poles–ever.
Can I put political signs on my Private Property? What about on my property right next to the road?
No ifs, ands, or buts about it, says Bunting, political signs “really need to be on private property,” and only private property.
But, he adds, make sure you know where your property ends–and where the town’s right of way begins. “A lot of people are under the impression that they own right out to the curb line, and that’s usually not the case,” he says. “In about 90-percent of all properties around town, the curbside is usually in the town right of way.”
What’s the “right of way?”
“For all town roads, we have a 50-foot right of way. That average 24-26 ft. wide road can be anywhere in that right of way. It could be pushed over to one side.” That means there is usually a 10-15 ft. swath of land right next to the road on either side that technically belongs to the town and is town-owned. “And as you get closer to a street corner it normally widens out to a little more than 50 ft.”
So even if residents think they own the land right up to the curb line, they likely don’t. “People usually maintain it, most people mow it,” Bunting says, “and the big issue is that a lot of property owners don’t know exactly where the property lines are,” noting that the only way to know for sure is to check the property survey, or if one doesn’t exist, have a surveyor make one.
That 10-15 ft. space from the road to the property line is also usually the width of the town’s claim, but it isn’t universal, making it even more important for people to have an accurate survey to know what is their land and what belongs to the town.
What happens when political signs are found on town property?
“When I get complaints about political signs, I usually don’t touch them. I call the political party that’s handling them,” Bunting says. “I direct them to remove the signs from town property; just put them on private property.”
Bunting only removes signs in rare occasions, an only after calling the political party or trying to reach a homeowner unsuccessfully. “If it’s blocking a sight line or may cause an accident, then yes. But normally, nine times out of 10, I can usually get a hold of somebody.”
Do residents need to get a permit to put political signs on their private property?
Town regulations require that permits be obtained for all temporary signage other than political signs. “You might see these bright yellow tags on temporary signs around town. People have come in to get permits for them. We allow a certain number and they all have to be on private property,” says Bunting, who adds that there is also a two-week time limit for how long temporary signs are allowed.
Is there a time limit for how long election signs can stay up?
According to town counsel Kenneth Bernhard, political signs are exempt from almost all town regulations, because they’re protected by Federal law. “There are First Amendment issues that may override our regulations,” he tells GMW. That means permits are not required for political signs and there isn’t a time limit on how long they can be left up.
“You can have them up 365 days a year if you want,” says Bunting, reminding everyone once more, “But political signs on town property, that’s a no go.”