Archives of the Mayor's Press Office

Date: Monday, March 19, 2001

Release #086-01

Contact: Sunny Mindel / Michael Anton
(212) 788-2958


The first bill before me today is Introductory Number 809-A, sponsored at my request by Council Members Eisland, McCaffrey and Freed. The bill will establish a comprehensive system for the enforcement of the City's sign regulations.

In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of illegal outdoor advertising signs throughout the City. As the City's economy has grown, so has the number of billboards and advertising signs. Unfortunately, the placement of many of these signs is in violation of the City's zoning regulations governing location, size, projection and height. However, the City's current enforcement penalties are often merely considered a "cost of doing business" for the sign companies.

Illegal signs are often eyesores that detract from New Yorkers' quality--of--life. This bill will grant the City new tools to fight the proliferation of illegal signs and new mechanisms to ensure that companies comply with the law. Under this bill, outdoor advertising companies will be required to register with the Department of Buildings. The companies will be required to identify all of the signs in their portfolios and to certify that their signs comply with zoning and building code requirements. A company that operates without a registration will be liable for civil penalties of up to $15,000 for the first day and $25,000 per day thereafter. In addition, the City will have the authority to revoke the registration of a company that repeatedly violates the law. Without a valid registration, a company will not be able to operate in the City.

The bill will also enable the City to adjudicate sign violations far more quickly. Instead of requiring the City to take violators to Criminal Court, where cases can languish for long periods of time, the bill will allow sign violations to be adjudicated at the Environmental Control Board. At the Environmental Control Board, the City will be able to more readily obtain judgements, increasing our ability to enforce the law. In addition, the bill will give the City the ability to remove an illegal sign, a power we currently lack.

Quality--of--life issues have been a central part of my Administration's agenda for the last seven years. This legislation will be a major new component of our on-going fight to eliminate the abuses and nuisances that unfairly burden New Yorkers. The new regulatory framework and enforcement powers created by this legislation will enable the City to stop unsightly, illegal signs from inundating neighborhoods across the five boroughs.

In conjunction with this bill, the City Council also recently passed zoning text amendments supported by my Administration, establishing new sign regulations to govern manufacturing districts. Introductory Number 809-A will assist in making these regulations effective. However, the most important use of this legislation will be in combating the proliferation of advertising signs along our highways that have been installed in violation of existing zoning requirements that have been in effect for many years. New York City was a pioneer in highway beautification, with the current prohibition on advertising along highways adopted as early as 1940 under the LaGuardia Administration.

The City Planning Commission of that era recognized that billboards and other signs along the highways are an aesthetic harm. As a result, the Commission adopted a provision, still in effect today, prohibiting advertising signs within view from, and within a distance of, two hundred feet from parks, parkways and express highways. In the current debate over outdoor advertising, the sign companies have suggested that we abandon this provision, grandfather illegal signs on the highways and near parks, and allow new advertising signs to be installed. The City Planning Commission and the City Council have wisely chosen to reject these requests.

At the same time that it prohibited advertising signs, the City recognized in 1940 that its interests in traffic regulation and highway beautification should yield to allow accessory signs along the highways, in recognition of the legitimate needs of commercial enterprises. Accessory signs are signs that companies erect on their buildings to identify the building as a place of business. The City Planning Commission described the outdoor advertising sign as deriving its value "not from the use of the property on which it is located -- but from its exploitation of the view from other more or less distant properties." It found that the "sign erected and maintained to identify a business conducted on the premises" was "wholly different from the sign erected for the purpose of advertising goods or services obtainable elsewhere." Thus, the Commission concluded, it was "logical to consider quite different regulations for these two distinct types of outdoor display." This distinction between advertising and accessory signs is found not just in New York City, but in jurisdictions throughout the country.

The City Planning Commission Report remains as compelling today as it was in 1940. Introductory Number 809-A reaffirms this now 60-year old policy by giving the City the tools to combat illegal advertising signs along the highways and elsewhere.

For the reasons previously stated, I will now sign the bill.

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