Editorial: Why even write a town code?

Driving across Long Island is different from, say, driving through The Bronx, upstate or pretty much anywhere else in the U.S., in that large, unsightly and quite often obnoxious billboards are conspicuously absent in Suffolk and Nassau counties.

We’re sure most Long Islanders would like to keep it that way.

What we don’t need is local officials — like the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals — arbitrarily tossing out town codes and allowing these monstrosities to creep across our landscape. Yet that’s exactly what happened at last week’s ZBA meeting.

At that meeting, the board considered an application from Heritage Riverhead Retail Developers, LLC, seeking to place a sign measuring 72 square feet — or six feet by 12 feet — at the front of the Route 58 property where the group plans to build a shopping center with Costco as the anchor tenant. The sign would advertise retail space at the center.

One tiny problem. Town code allows for a maximum sign size of nine square feet, a size the applicant understandably argued would get “lost in the shuffle.” So after a back-and-forth between board members and the developer’s lawyer, the ZBA agreed to allow a 60-square-foot sign, or five feet by 12 feet. That’s almost seven times larger than town code allows! At the very least, one would think the applicant and ZBA would meet somewhere in the middle and, say, split the difference between nine and 72. Agreeing to a sign of about 30 square feet would at least make a bit of sense.

Either way, the rest of us are left wondering why we even have a town code. Allowing businesses to actually do business is important for the town and its people to thrive, but this ruling is illogical and sets a dangerous precedent. What else is the ZBA going to approve at almost seven times the size town code calls for?

The Heritage group’s lawyer said that one of the development company’s principals, who has a summer house in the area, recently drove by the site and wondered why there was no sign advertising for tenants. “The size of the sign is very important to the client,” the lawyer said.

Important to him, yes. But we suspect that if he wanted such a sign near his summer home, the answer would be no.