'For rent' sign ban not likely; Council, mayor seeking compromise

OSWEGO — A mayoral proposal to ban 'For Rent' signs in the Port City stalled before the common council this week and officials are working on a compromise in which the city would provide permits for rental advertisement and the signs.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow unveiled a proposal earlier this month to ban the use of 'For Rent' signs in the front yards and windows of properties within the city's residential neighborhoods. Councilors are working on a compromise that would see the city distribute uniform signs and limit the amount of time those signs could be on display, and could vote on the matter as early as Monday.

Barlow characterized the proposal as a prohibition on “For Rent” signs in residential neighborhoods, noting particularly in the summer months the signage is often haphazardly displayed on porch railings, front lawns and in windows. More pressing issues face the city, Barlow conceded, but officials should be able to “walk and chew gum” at the same time.

“I believe the 'For Rent' sign in and of itself is a sign of blight,” Barlow said, calling the ban a small, easy move officials could make to improve neighborhoods.

Under the mayor's proposal, the signage would be prohibited in traditional neighborhood, traditional neighborhood 2, urban residential, suburban residential, maritime and waterfront zoning districts.

There are a variety of other means to advertise rental properties, Barlow said, adding the “For Rent” signs are typically displayed at lower quality properties, many of which are managed by out-of-town landlords and aren't attentive to their properties.

“It's just one more thing that those landlords, who in my opinion are lazy and want to take the easy way out, have to deal with,” Barlow said, calling “For Rent” signs “negative indicators” of the quality of a neighborhood. “Our neighborhoods are not billboards, and it's not appropriate for business advertising.”

Councilor Shawn Walker, R-4th Ward, who chairs the city Planning and Development Committee who addressed this issue this week, said rather than an outright ban, the council could work together to place stipulations on the display of such signs. He proposed property owners wishing to display such signs could receive a permit and a uniform sign through the city Code Enforcement Office.

“I personally think we can work with these people, and they'd have to get a permit for it and go by our guidelines,” Walker said, noting there are some elderly individuals who rent out properties or portions of their property.

Council President Robert Corradino, R-7th Ward, who noted in the interest of transparency he owns rental properties in the city, said there are still individuals and families who drive around neighborhoods seeking out available properties using the “For Rent” signs. Corradino said the council could put restrictions on the size of “For Rent” signs and put controls on the length of time the signage could be displayed.

“That would address these large, ugly signs that the mayor mentioned that are duct taped to walls and stapled,” Corradino said. “Instead of having all these different kinds of signs they would all be uniformed and small in stature.”

Councilors expressed understanding for Barlow's intentions, but noted there are a plethora of other signs in front lawns throughout the city, including those of contractors, “For Sale” signs and political candidates, among others.

Councilor Susan McBrearty, D-1st Ward, supported the idea of standardizing the signage and enforcing current city code that dictates the size and location of such signage.

The city Planning and Development Committee approved a measure that would have the signage distributed through the code enforcement office via a permit, at no cost to the property owner. Property owners would be required to have a valid rental permit prior to distribution of the signs.

Following the meeting, Barlow lamented the additional steps put in place and noted he would still prefer a prohibition on the signs in residential districts. Barlow said, however, he was content with the compromise. The mayor said the one caveat he would like to see is that such signs not be displayed for more than three months.

The full Common Council is expected to vote on the policy at Monday's meeting, which starts with a public hearing, in which residents can weigh-in on the matter, at 7:15 p.m.

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