RED BANK: SIGN CRACKDOWN SPARKS IRE
Neon signs in store windows at the City Centre strip mall on White Street. Cluck U Chicken, above left, got a warning, but Psychic Advisor Gina on Monmouth Street, below, did not, according to borough records. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
A recent crackdown on neon and other illuminated signs that lit up the business community with outrage prompted Red Bank officials to pull the plug on enforcement Wednesday night.
The blitz came to light at the bimonthly meeting of the mayor and council, when Councilman Mike DuPont said he had been besieged with complaints by merchants and restaurateurs over warning letters for signs some of them have had in their windows for decades.
“Many of the restaurants I visited complained bitterly,” said DuPont. “I heard all about it.”
Records show that some two dozen businesses – ranging from Brothers Restaurant on West Front Street, which has featured neon signage for some 50 years, to the Doc Shoppe shoe store, which opened on Broad Street less than a month before it was cited – were issued warning letters regarding illuminated signage during a three-day blitz in May.
Another dozen or so were sent warnings for other types of variations, ranging from window coverage to improper placement of signs on awnings.
Councilwoman Cindy Burnham, the council’s liaison to the code enforcement office, said the crackdown followed a complaint in late March about the placement of lawn signs for an event at St. Anthony of Padua Church. In discussing it with the administration, she said, she learned that there were numerous other potential violators of different stripes, but that the ordinance had not been enforced in many years.
“We looked at the ordinance and said if we’re going to enforce it, we have to do it across the board,” she said. “Of course, if you enforce something that hasn’t been enforced, people are going to balk.”
Burnham, the lone Republican on the otherwise all-Democrat governing body, called the neon signs and other violations “litter.”
Some of her colleagues’ comments, though, were barely disguised rebukes of the handling of the matter.
“I have people calling me saying this sign has been here since day one,” Council President Art Murphy said. “You know what I tell them? Turn ’em back on. Because it’s killing the business community.”
DuPont said the manpower devoted to the crackdown law is “wasted.”
“I’m just amazed that we are spending so much time on this, when there’s probably issues that are a little more important than neon signs or graphics and banners,” DuPont said. “I haven’t ever seen such a tidal wave of complaints.”
None of the businesses on the list (see below) had yet been issued summonses for violating rules on illuminated signs, borough Administrator Stanley Sickels told redbankgreen. It was unclear if tickets had been issued for other forms of signage violations, though.
Red Bank RiverCenter executive director Jim Scavone said some of the businesses had received second warnings, but none had been issued summonses for internally illuminated signs.
At the urging of Mayor Pasquale Menna, the council agreed to halt enforcement and take a stab at fixing an ordinance that Scavone called “unwieldy” in its complexity.
“It’s crazy,” Scavone told redbankgreen. “The Globe – they’ve had their sign up for 20 years. [Owner Paula Donley] didn’t understand why she was all of a sudden getting warnings.” Donley couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Businesses are staying open late, at the urging of the mayor and others, and the lighted signs are “important for people to know that they’re open,” Scavone said.
Among the requirements of the law are that an illuminated sign cannot be within 18 inches of a window. Scavone, however, showed redbankgreen photos of illuminated signs in two Broad Street business, one of which complied with the distance requirement and the other that didn’t, and noted that “you can’t tell the difference.”
Here’s who got warning letters, by category of violation:
Bow Tie Cinemas
Fins and Feathers
White Dove Cleaners
Red Bank Antiques
Red Bank Wines & Liquors
North of the Border
Rincon Latino Market
Lino Mexican Cafe
Connection Red Nails
La China Poblana
Red Bank Liquors
The Doc Shoppe
Red Bank Nails
Red Bank Sub Shop
Lil’ Cutie Pops
Cluck U Chicken