A proposal meant to ease restrictions on "for sale" and "for rent" signs around Darien is pitting local realtors against residents concerned about the visual clutter created by the notices.
Under a plan brought forward by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the maximum allowed size of the signs would be increased from three square feet to five and limitations on their content removed.
The minimum required distance of sign from the roadway would also be reduced to each street's right-of-way — usually extending 8 to 14 feet from the pavement — instead of the current 30-foot figure.
Real estate brokers, many of whose signs already overstep the town's existing regulations, say the change is vital to visibility and, in turn, maintaining a healthy housing market in Darien.
But speaking Tuesday at a public hearing on the plan, members of the Darien Beautification Commission characterized the more visible signs as eyesores and potential hazards while accusing P&Z of failing to enforce the current rules.
Director Jeremy Ginsberg led off Tuesday's hearing by describing the effect of the proposed regulations, which he said had not been updated since 1988.
"The Planning and Zoning Office believes that the proposed wording is a more workable solution, finding a balance between the need for pedestrian and vehicular safety and the need and desire for property owners and brokers to make their signs visible," Ginsberg said.
Ginsberg presented a series of photos of real estate signs around Darien, all of which violated the existing regulations in some way.
"We've not been able to find a sign in this town that's less than four square feet in size," Ginsberg said. "So if the commission were to keep the existing three square foot size and strictly enforce it, we would then have to tell all of the brokers to not put any of these signs up in town."
Though the proposal was originally drafted in response to enforcement concerns from the Beautification Commission, members of that body criticized P&Z's approach to the issue.
"What has taken place is that we're going to recommend that the regulations be changed to accommodate the signs rather than force the signs to accommodate the regulations," said beautification commissioner Bob Baker, likening the move to increasing speed limits to match drivers' actual speeds.
Susanne Schutte, chairman of the Beautification Commission, said that neighboring towns had done a better job of educating brokers and members of the public about signage restrictions by advertising them clearly on their municipal websites.
"We really need to follow what some of our neighboring towns are doing in making it much better clearly stated on our website and to the population at large," Schutte said.
Gunnar Edelstein, President of the , told the commission that prominent signs were critical to the work of brokers. He cited a figure from the National Association of Realtors stating that, in 2009, 42 percent of homebuyers named real estate signs as a major source of information in the search process.
"It's definitely a very important thing, and we [the board] feel very strongly about it," Edelstein said. "We feel that the regulations as proposed are good, and we can live with them."
Edelstein noted that the decision to install a sign was up to the property owner and that the physical installation was typically done by an outside company.
But P&Z commissioner Susan Cameron balked at Edelstein's response, noting that signs in Darien were already using the looser standard.
"When I hear the realtors saying that they can live with this, this new regulation — it's what they have," Cameron said. "I think it's kind of a little bit of arrogance on the part of the realtors."
Vice chairman Joe Spain asked Edelstein if agents would be willing to accept a lower display area of four square feet, including the "riders" that sometimes hang off of the signs.
"I think we could probably live with that," Edelstein replied.
Chairman Fred Conze called on the board of realtors to assume responsibility for policing its own members as a precondition for approving any changes.
"We have limited resources in the Planning and Zoning Commission to chase down every sign in town," Conze said. "[Zoning Enforcement Officer] Dave Keating would never be behind his desk if he just spent his entire life in his car trying to figure out the measurement of signs all around town."
"I think what I would like to see is basically a contract of some kind between the Darien Board of Realtors and the Planning and Zoning that says, 'This is what we will do ... If there's any problems, we will take care of our own,'" Conze added.
"We feel like we do a tremenedous job in this town ... there's no reason we can't do a better job on this issue," Edelstein said.
Ginsberg told Patch that the commission, which closed the public hearing Tuesday night, would likely hold a vote on the proposal at its Mar. 1 or Mar. 8 meeting.
Clarification: Members of the Beautification Commission accused the Planning and Zoning Department of too little enforcement at Tuesday's hearing, not excessive enforcement. The fifth paragraph has been modified to make this point clearer.