‘Do We Want Our Town To Look Like That?’: Officials Eye Illegal Signs in New Canaan [UPDATED]

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A New Canaan Football sign in front of a Summer Street home. Credit: Michael Dinan

[Editor’s Note: A reference to sign enforcement was removed at the request of a participant in the meeting.]

As new types of signs pop up on residential properties and throughout the downtown, including many that are prohibited by local zoning regulations, town officials say New Canaan must make a conscious decision about whether to be more lax about them.

A contractor’s sign outside of a Main Street home. Credit: Michael Dinan

Members of the town’s legislative body say they’re receiving calls about proliferating lawn signs, from those promoting sports teams such as New Canaan Squash and New Canaan Football, to events such as Lobsterfest.

“Technically they are against our ordinance,” Town Councilman Steve Karl said at a recent meeting of the body’s Bylaws and Ordinances Committee, which he co-chairs.

“In the old days, [Planning & Zoning] had a sign police that would say, ‘Hey that’s an illegal sign,’ ” Karl said at the Oct. 1 meeting, held in Town Hall. “We have kind of softened that a little bit. We are even seeing neon signs in commercial windows. Do we want our town to look like that?”

Real estate signs at a South Avenue home. Credit: Michael Dinan

Karl recalled a time when even modest promotions on small business signs would earn a swift admonition from the town.

“You go around town now and we have softened because business has been tough, and maybe that’s the new norm, and we need to decide: Are we going to be a little more lax with our signs in town? People need to know what is or what isn’t legal.”

Under the New Canaan Zoning Regulations, temporary signs are allowed on the “sign wall” at South Avenue and Farm Road, and temporary signs also may be placed at the entrances to Waveny, so long as they’re removed within one day after “completion of the use or activity” they promote.

A New Canaan Squash sign out front of a Main Street home. Credit: Michael Dinan

The zoning regulations allow for a number of different types of signs in residential zones, such as lawn signs bearing the names of the property or occupant, real estate signs and political signs associated with an election or referendum, so long as they’re removed within one week after voting is done. Other types of signs may be obtained with a zoning permit, such as multi-family developments, churches, schools or libraries. 

A sign with life advice, on a bench at an East Avenue home. Credit: Michael Dinan

No illuminated signs are allowed, nor are flashing signs. Construction, landscaping and painter signs are not allowed in residential zones, and no sandwich board or easel-type signs are allowed anywhere. 

Councilman Sven Englund noted that in the past, organizations would apply for a permit for a “Temporary Sign,” including at the firehouse for smoke alarm battery giveaways or even calls for volunteers.

“We went and asked for permission rather than begging forgiveness,” Englund said.

The sign board at Farm Road and South Avenue typically promotes youth and high school sports and performing arts events. Credit Michael Dinan

Karl said the town should strive to strike a balance. New Canaan Emergency Medical Services recently promoted an open house and “we are not going to discourage that,” Karl said. Yet “recently, I have seen Farm Road where all the athletic signs are and I drive by that and I see estate sale signs getting stuck out there.”

27 thoughts on “‘Do We Want Our Town To Look Like That?’: Officials Eye Illegal Signs in New Canaan [UPDATED]

  1. Under the same headline you could publish a picture of the new faux cement wall being built at a large construction site on Park Street.

  2. I enjoy seeing the signs that celebrate & support our youth, whether it’s sports, theater, or any other productive endeavors. I’ve also always enjoyed the plants, flowers and encouraging signs that beautify my East Ave neighbor’s home.

  3. I enjoy seeing the signs up to inspire and remind New Canaan residents of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful town. It’s also an excellent talking point with my children. We discuss these signs, and what they might be advertising or promoting. Here’s to the healthy promotion of literacy, colorful self expression and diverse lifestyles.

    • Hi Besty, thanks for embracing a much open attitude, and teaching your children that there is nothing wrong in expressing our opinions!
      We are in Hollywood where everything is fake! I hope people deeply think about other places in the world, and pay attention to real life problems.

  4. Seriously that new faux wall being built on Park St at large construction site is atrocious. Doesn’t our town have any standards anymore?

    Do we not have any control over this?

    If I wanted that, I’d live in Stamford for 1/2 the price.

    • I live in Stamford. We take applications from outsiders like you who are thinking about moving here, and trawl comments threads like this before making a decision. The fee to apply means that you’d end up paying slightly more than half FYI.

  5. When I opened my business 20 plus years ago, there was a town ordinance prohibiting any type of advertising attached (glued, scotch-taped etc. ) to a storefront window. What happened? Now there is advertising and pictures everywhere in many stores in town. I prefer the clean look.

  6. I love all the signs !!! It makes me feel like part of a community that is engaging in all kinds of interesting activities that are open to all.

  7. While I think temporary signage with. a 1-2 week time limit is acceptable, permanent signage that detracts from the look is not. So, I would say no to neon, or NC Rams whatever sport. But I would support tag sales, festival ads, community ads, etc as they are all temporary.

      • On October 24th, I walked past a FRANTZ lawn sign on God’s Acre. Last time I checked, God was not spelled GOP. I was upset to see this blantant misuse of sacred property in New Canaan. But, the irony of a republican lawn sign on consecrated land was not lost on me, me- a thinking, respectful adult with a moral compass, who believes that Donald Trump, and all that voted him into the US presidency, while claiming to be of the Christian faith, are grossly hypocritical to the word of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ.

        • We were contacted this morning about a campaign sign being placed on God’s Acre and have taken immediate action to have it removed as quickly as possible. We apologize if this was offensive to anyone. Volunteers from both campaigns are putting up yard signs in town. We have reminded ours volunteers to be respective and courteous when placing signs. If you would like to contact the campaign directly, please do so at Info@FrantzForStateSenate.com

  8. I don’t even like election signs because of the clutter they create, but at least those are seasonal. If you have something to say or a need to post something, put it on social media. These unnecessary signs are ugly, and I wish someone would go back to enforcing the zoning laws. And how any builder can get away with putting a tacky, ugly faux wall on such a major and visible thoroughfare in our beautiful town is beyond me…but then again the builder in question has already gotten away with too much.

  9. I am worried about the overall look of town. Between all the signs and that ugly fake veneer retaining wall at the Park Street development where are we going ?

  10. I’m a New Canaan Realtor who was 100% for the removal of the real estate signs, so it will come as no surprise that I think other signs should be removed as well. The exception is the Sports Wall at the corner of Farm and South, which I love. I strongly dislike the political yard signs, especially when there are many of the same sign for the same candidate. I think they should be limited in both time and quantity (Two weeks before an election? One sign per candidate?). I also don’t like the advertising signs because they do cheapen the look of the town. But, the lost dog/cat/tag sale signs that are placed every few feet that NEVER get removed bug me most of all. That’s the responsibility of the owner to remove them in a timely manner and I think the homeowner should be fined if the tag sale signs are up past the date of the sale. A suggestion would be to increase the size of the Sports Wall and allow more Community News for the town to see. This town is gorgeous. Signs on properties and in store windows don’t create a community feel or show team spirit – they’re just clutter. I’m for keeping New Canaan beautiful without the debris all these signs create.

  11. The faux stone wall being built on Park Street looks like something you would see along the side of an Interstate Highway. I think cheap and tacky describes it pretty accurately. Would anyone seriously put that on their own property?

  12. Mike : why did you shut down the thread on ‘Let Us Get Further Down the Road’: Merritt Village Developer Addresses Criticism of Retaining Wall” but you are letting the babble continue about the wall on this site about signs? What is logic please?

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