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Mayor, Group Leader Debate Lawn Sign Regulations at Closed Door Meeting

Are the signs an eyesore or first amendment right?

Wyckoff officials met in private with leadership from a local advocacy group Monday to discuss how residential lawn signs could be regulated without limiting free speech. 

While the discussions are spurred by the ubiquitous signage created and distributed by the grassroots organization SAVE Wyckoff, Monday's talk may have a wider impact on first amendment rights and how the township and its zoning officer enforce the sign ordinance across Wyckoff. 

SAVE Wyckoff is a group started by Stanley Goodman in November 2010, which opposes the Christian Health Care Center's Vista project.

Goodman, and the group's Treasurer Ken Bloom, met with Wyckoff Mayor , Committeeman , and Township Attorney Robert Landel in an attempt to find some common ground on the issue.

DePhillips and Goodman both said the meeting was friendly and positive.

"So far, we don't know where the solution lies, but face-to-face discussion is better than most alternatives," Goodman said.

"The takeaway from the meeting," said DePhillips. "Is that we asked Stanley to educate his membership on what the ordinance says because I believe that most residents that have signs up don't even know about the ordinance."

The ordinance to which the mayor refers is a specific section of 186-28 that says temporary political signs are restricted to a size of four square feet, are set back 25 feet from the curb, and are limited to 30 days of display.

(You can find the ordinance, in its entirety, attached to this story.)

A drive down Sicomac and surrounding roads — near where the CHCC is located — reveals a large concentration of the "Bigger Than Boulder Run!" vinyl displays stuck into front lawns.

According to Goodman, his group has distributed about 200 signs to members around Wyckoff — most of whom have requested the items in person or via the SAVE Wyckoff website.

Officials say those lawn signs are an eyesore to residents and many may be in violation of some aspect of the ordinance.

"This seems to be an ongoing pain we've been feeling for the last three, four, five months," said Committeeman Kevin Rooney during the February 7 committee meeting. 

A conversation at the committee meeting between Rooney, Boonstra and DePhillips led the mayor to reach out to Goodman in order to arrange Monday's sitdown. 

"I'm trying to find a fair and balanced way to deal with the ordinance as well as the rights of residents to express themselves," DePhillips said in a conversation on the Friday before the meeting.

The mayor has been careful to differentiate a fair and balanced enforcement of the ordinance from what could be perceived as an effort to muzzle one group's freedom of speech.

"My concern with the signs is regardless of what is actually printed on those signs," the mayor said. "If all of those signs were pro-Vista signs, I would have the same opinion because the issue is compliance with our ordinance."

Goodman, who said he hadn't given out any additional lawn signs in the past several days, said he would consult with his lawyer Ira Weiner before speaking to group members.

"We're going to process what we heard," Goodman said. "There were no clear and hard agreements, there was no clear and hard proposal made."

Goodman said that the ordinance was a violation of residents' right to free speech, but, "I also understand and respect how these ordinances were written in a need to maintain what the community feels is an attractive and well-groomed appearance.

"I do wonder about the constitutionality of this ordinance," Goodman said. "I'm not accusing the township committee or prior township committees of trying to suppress free speech, I don't believe that was the intention." 

Both parties said the talks were ongoing, and Mayor DePhillips said the subject would be further discussed at future Township Committee meetings. 

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