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October 23, 2009

 

Legislature chairman says sign signals politics

C’ville code officer and Republican legislator says it is too big and has to come down

SignJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
A large election sign endorsing John Daniels for Cortlandville legislator faces the road Wednesday along Route 222. The sign violates local code because of its size, Cortlandville Code Officer Tom Williams says. Daniels says he is being unfairly targeted by Williams.

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

CORTLANDVILLE — Democratic Legislature Chairman John Daniels thinks he is being unfairly targeted by Code Officer Tom Williams’ pursuit of a zoning code violation complaint about one of his political signs.
Williams — a Republican running for re-election to the Legislature — said a 4-by-8 foot political sign on private land violates the town zoning code. Williams said he is only doing his job in pursuing the matter.
Williams warned property owner Thomas Huttleston of the violation in a letter dated Oct. 16.
Williams said a complaint about the sign brought the matter to his attention. He would only identify the person who complained as a Cortlandville taxpayer.
Williams told the person that in a residential district, where Huttleston’s Route 222 property lies, signs must be less than 6 square feet. Williams said that if a district is commercial or industrial, signs can be up to 32-square-feet.
Daniels said he is being targeted by Williams.
In March, Daniels replaced Williams as chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, saying Williams did not help him or the Legislature conduct county business and subverted Daniels’ authority.
“Nobody goes after anybody for signs. Zeroing me out I think is unethical,” Daniels said.
Williams said if the situation is not corrected the matter could end up before the courts and result in criminal prosecution.
Williams said the procedure he follows is to send two letters to the resident who is in violation and then turn the matter over to the town attorney.
Williams would not comment on how far he has gotten in that process, but Daniels said a second letter was sent to Huttleston that warned if the sign is not removed the matter would be brought before the Town Board.
“Any violation of the zoning ordinance ultimately, if it is not corrected, can be ... presented to the town court for action by the town attorney. A criminal complaint could be filed,” Williams said.
Williams said that over the three years he has been code officer for the town he has only had one case that ended with action taken by the Town Board. In that case a house was deemed to be unsafe and it was ordered to be demolished.
“Most people when you tell them there is a situation they are in violation they call, most apologize and say, ‘I’ll take care of it,’” Williams said.
Cortlandville Attorney John Folmer said Wednesday the matter had not been turned over to his office.
Daniels, a code enforcement officer for McGraw and other municipalities, cites the agricultural use of Huttleston’s land, which is leased for farming. He thinks Huttleston’s land is in fact in an agricultural district, where signs of up to 32 square feet are allowed.
“We will research this further. Maybe it is something that will have to be cleared up in the courts,” Daniels said.
County Planning Department Director Dan Dineen confirmed the land is residentially zoned.
Williams said he has never before issued warnings about political signs but stressed he is treating this complaint no differently than others he receives. Williams said the office is complaint-driven and it is his duty to follow up on a complaint that is brought to his attention.
“I don’t know of any other signs other than this complaint in the town of Cortlandville. I can’t speak for the city or anyone else,” Williams said.
Daniels said he does not want Huttleston to be penalized but could not say whether the sign would be removed.
“If he decides he wants to take it down, we will take it down,” Daniels said.
Huttleston had not returned phone calls for comment.
City Zoning Officer Amy Bertini said she has received two complaints about Republican incumbent Legislative candidate Tony Piombo’s signs on two properties.
Bertini said she sent out violation notices to both property owners who have two weeks to comply from the date the notice is sent out.
The city’s code requires all temporary signs, including political signs, be no larger than 3 square feet, Bertini said.
Bertini said around election time it is not unusual to receive complaints about the size of political signs.
“A couple of years ago I had the same issue and I always receive an angry response from either an attorney or property owner,” Bertini said.

 

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