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It's a sign of the times

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By Jenny Hartley

Lancaster County used to require politicians to wait until 30 days before an election to put up their political signs.

County Council voted at its May 5 meeting on first reading to delete the 30-day time limit from its ordinances. County Administrator Steve Willis said it was wise to change the county’s ordinance, based on the lawsuit filed by York Mayor Eddie Lee in York County.

Lee was a candidate and placed his signs up prior to the time limit, Willis said. Lee knew there were several federal cases on this point and sued the city of York. He not only won his case, he won the election for mayor, Willis said.

“We knew that if we enforced the regulation and we were challenged that we would lose so we are amending the Unified Development Ordinance to comply with applicable case law,” Willis said. “The requirement that the signs come down within 15 days is still in code but is basically unenforceable since all candidates routinely forfeit their whopping $25 deposit, which is the penalty.”

Councilman Fred Thomas questioned the need for deleting the 30-day time limit.

“The signs get old and weather beaten,” Thomas said. “They look like crap. Nobody wants to look at my name or anyone else’s nine months out of the year.”

Councilman Wayne Kersey said the county “pounds on struggling business owners” over signs, but is giving political candidates more leeway with their signs.

“I have a problem with this, with us harassing the people out there who are providing jobs and trying to make a living,” Kersey said.

County regulations

Lancaster County Zoning Officer Kenneth Cauthen said most candidates have already paid their deposits to put up signs, so residents and businesses should be prepared to see them sprouting up just about everywhere.

The most important guideline candidates must follow is placing the signs so they do not block the line of sight along a road. In residential districts, the signs may be no larger than 8 square feet. In commercial districts and rural residential districts, the signs may be up to 32 square feet.

“That’s basically all we look for,” Cauthen said.

Candidates may not fasten the signs to utility poles.

The signs must be removed within 15 days after an election.

“We’ve never had any major problems from our local candidates,” Cauthen said.

It’s often the state or national candidates who fail to remove large signs from roadsides, he said.

“We will likely have a big collection weekend using inmate labor following the (June 10) primaries for collecting signs of defeated candidates,” Willis said. “We can’t touch the signs of the winners as they are still candidates for November. I plan to ask the ones in the District 1 and 7 primaries, though, if they mind us collecting their signs since they face no opposition in November.”

Anyone with questions about the county regulations may call the Lancaster County Building and Zoning department at 285-1969.

City regulations

City of Lancaster Building Official Richard Bowers said political signs are allowed in all zoning districts in the city.

In residential areas, the signs may not be larger than 25 square feet. In commercial areas, the signs may be up to 100 square feet.

The signs must be placed at least 5 feet from the street right-of-way in commercial districts, and 10 feet from the edge of the pavement in residential districts, Bowers said.

Candidates must pay a $25, non-refundable temporary sign permit fee. Property owners must remove the signs within 15 days after an election, except when a candidate is involved in a run-off.

The city has a handout available on instructions for political sign placement, Bowers said. Anyone with questions about the county regulations may call the city’s Building Licensing and Zoning department at 283-4253.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at 283-1151