Enough With the Signs Already!

This is the view that assaults drivers as they cross the bridge and enter the City of Amsterdam for the first time.  On top of GPS units giving wrong directions to cell phones,  Blackberries, iPods and iPads,  Amsterdam decided to add one more element to catch the attention of already distracted drivers in the form of new business ads on the bottom of the City’s streetlight banners.

The new signs do negatively impact the safety of our residents by further distracting drivers traveling on Church Street. One driver not familiar with Amsterdam, ran the red light on Church and hit my car friday afternoon, claiming they never saw the traffic light because they were distracted!

The City may want to reevaluate the number and placement of these signs on Church Street. No marketing campaign is worth risking the safety of our residents.


The signage pictured in the image violates the City of Amsterdam Zoning Codes and as such, should have required a special permit to allow these signs to be erected.  The following is the current City of Amsterdam Zoning Code regarding signage and advertising material:

§ 250-29. Sign regulations.

Signs may be erected and maintained only when in conformance with the provisions of this section and § 250-65  of this chapter.

A. General standards. The provisions contained in this section shall apply to all signs and all use districts, regardless of designation:

(1) Any sign or use of signs not specifically permitted by provision of this chapter is prohibited.

(2) No sign shall be located in such a way as to interfere with driver vision of other traffic.

(3) Any illuminated sign or lighting device shall employ only lights emitting a light of constant intensity, and no sign shall be illuminated by or contain flashing, intermittent, rotating or moving light or lights. In no event shall an illuminated sign or lighting device be so placed or directed so as to permit the beams and illumination therefrom to be directed or beamed upon a public street, highway, sidewalk or adjacent premises so as to cause glare or reflection that may constitute a traffic hazard or nuisance.

(4) No projecting sign shall be erected or maintained from the front or face of a building a distance of more than three feet, nor shall any sign project into or over a public right-of-way.

(5) No sign shall be higher than the height limit in the district where such sign is located, nor shall any sign be placed on the roof of any building.

(6) No portable or temporary sign shall be placed on the front of any building or premises, except as otherwise provided herein.

(7) No sign shall be freestanding, except that one freestanding sign shall be permitted for each planned shopping center, as defined in this chapter, and for each major commercial or light industrial use located on an individual site in excess of two acres of land area. The gross surface area of such freestanding signs shall be included within the maximum sign area allowable in the applicable zoning district. Any such sign shall be located not less than 15 feet from any street line and not less than 10 feet from any other lot line.

(8) No sign or part thereof shall contain or consist of banners, posters, pennants, ribbons, streamers, spinners or other similar moving, fluttering or revolving devices. Included are signs which are mechanically animated, such as moving, rotating or revolving signs. Said devices, as well as strings of lights, shall not be used for the purposes of advertising or attracting attention when not part of a sign.

(9) All signs shall be constructed of wood, metal or other durable material approved by the Building Inspector.

(10) No sign shall advertise a product or a service not principally available on the premises where such sign is located.

(11) Not more than two signs, as defined herein, shall be permitted on any premises.

(12) A canopy or an awning shall be considered to be a sign when displaying letters, numbers or symbols that advertise or announce a place, person, product, service or concept, except that a street address shall not be considered to be a sign. A canopy or an awning displaying signage shall not be considered to be a projecting or a hanging sign. A canopy or an awning displaying signage on more than one side shall be considered to be one sign and the allowable aggregate gross surface area of the signage shall be determined in accordance with the regulations of the zoning district in which it is located. An awning displaying signage shall be located on the lowest floor occupied by the business or service it is advertising or announcing.

(13) Without prejudice to the existing nonconforming status of any sign, the owner of a sign and the owner of the premises on which each sign is located shall be jointly and severally liable to maintain such sign and supporting structure, including its illumination sources, in neat and orderly condition and good working order at all times and to prevent the development of any corrosion, rotting or other deterioration in the physical appearance or safety of such sign or supporting structure. Unsightly, damaged, deteriorated signs or signs in danger of falling shall be put in order or removed upon written notice from the Building and Zoning Administrator.

B. Signs in residential districts. The following nonilluminated, accessory signs are permitted in the most restricted residential districts (R1, R2 and R3) and may be erected without issuance of a permit or payment of a fee, except that in the Historic Resources Overlay (HR-O) District all such signs identified in Subsection B(2), (4), (5), (6) and (7) shall be subject to review and approval by the Planning Commission.

(1) Nameplates and identification signs indicating the name and address of the occupant, provided that they shall not be larger than two square feet in area. Only one such sign per dwelling unit shall be permitted, except in the case of corner lots where two such signs, one facing each street, shall be permitted for each dwelling unit.

(2) For multiple-family dwellings and for buildings other than dwellings, a single identification sign not exceeding six square feet in area and indicating only the name and address of the building and the name of the management may be displayed, provided that on a corner lot two such signs, one facing each street, shall be permitted.

(3) Signs advertising the sale or rental of the premises upon which they are erected by the owner or broker or any other person interested in the sale or rental of such premises, and signs bearing the word “sold” or “rented” with the name of the persons effecting the sale or rental may be erected or maintained, provided that:

(a) The size of any such sign is not in excess of six square feet.

(b) Nor more than one sign is placed upon any property, unless such property fronts upon more than one street, in which event one such sign may be erected on each frontage.

(c) Such sign or signs shall be removed within a reasonable time period after the premises has been sold or rented.

(4) Institutional signs of schools, colleges, churches, hospitals or other similar public or semipublic nature may be erected and maintained, provided that:

(a) The size of any such sign is not in excess of 12 square feet.

(b) Not more than one such sign is placed on a property, unless such property fronts upon more than one street, in which event one such sign may be erected on each frontage.

(5) Signs designating entrances or exits to or from a parking lot and limited to one sign for each such exit or entrance and to a maximum size of two square feet each shall be permitted. One sign per parking lot designating the conditions of use or identity of such parking lot and limited to a maximum size of nine square feet shall be permitted, provided that on a corner lot two such signs shall be permitted, one facing each street.

(6) Development signs advertising the sale or development of the premises upon which they are erected, when erected in connection with the development of the premises by a builder, contractor, developer or other persons interested in such sale or development, may be erected and maintained, provided that:

(a) The size of any sign is not in excess of 20 square feet.

(b) Not more than one such sign is placed upon any property, unless such property fronts upon more than one street, in which event one such sign may be erected on each frontage.

(c) Any such sign shall be removed by the developer within 15 calendar days of the final sale.

(7) Artisan’s signs such as those of mechanics, painters and other artisans, may be erected and maintained during the period such persons are performing the work on the premises on which such signs are erected, provided that:

(a) The size thereof is not in excess of 12 square feet.

(b) Such signs are removed promptly upon completion of the work.

C. Signs in business, medical/institutional, commercial and light industrial districts. The following accessory signs are permitted in any business, medical/institutional, commercial or light industrial district (PB, RB, MR, CLI, LI or WF) in accordance with the following regulations and upon issuance of a permit by the Building Inspector. The aggregate gross surface area of all signs on a lot shall be as specified in the following table:

PB and RB (Professional Business and Retail Business) .5 square foot per foot of lot frontage, not to exceed 30 square feet
MR (Medical/Residential) .2 square feet per foot of lot frontage, not to exceed 20 square feet
CLI and WF (Commercial/Light Industrial and Waterfront) 1. square foot per foot of lot frontage, not to exceed 60 square feet
LI (Light Industrial) 1 square foot per foot of lot frontage, not to exceed 100 square feet

D. Temporary signs. All signs of a temporary nature, such as political posters, banners and signs of a similar nature, including school, church or civic functions, shall be permitted for a period not exceeding 30 calendar days, without permit or fee, provided that such signs are not attached to fences, trees, utility poles, regulatory signs or the like; and, further, provided that such signs are not placed in a position that will obstruct or impair vision or traffic in any manner. Such signs may not represent a commercial product, activity or enterprise and shall not exceed 30 square feet per side.

E. Directional signs. Businesses and public destinations shall be allowed not more than two off-premises directional signs in a district zoned for commercial or light industrial use as a special permit use subject to the provisions of Article VII of this chapter and the following requirements:

(1) In locations with more than one directional sign, all such signs shall be affixed to a common standard and shall be graphically coordinated and arranged so as to present a neat and orderly appearance.

(2) No directional sign shall exceed six square feet in area. In areas with more than one directional sign, the aggregate area shall not exceed 30 square feet.


Article I. Defacing Trees and Poles

§ 64-1. Affixing bills and advertising matter; penalty.

It shall be unlawful for any person to affix or cause to be affixed to any tree, electric light or telephone pole in any street within the city, any printed bills or other advertising matter. Every person violating this article shall be deemed guilty of a violation punishable by a fine of not more than $250, imprisonment for not more than 15 days, or both such fine and imprisonment.

Article II. Bill Posting and Distribution

[Adopted 9-8-1897]

§ 64-2. License required.

No person shall engage in and carry on the business of bill posting or bill distributing or sign advertising or sample distributing in the City of Amsterdam without previously having obtained a license so to do under the provisions of this article.

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15 thoughts on “Enough With the Signs Already!

  1. Oddly enough, this issue arose several years ago and the city wisely decided to do away with the advertising banners which are not only distracting, they are cheap, tawdry, and greatly depreciate the beauty of this entrance to the city. What the heck are they thinking of?

  2. diane

    I could not agree more Jerry. When the mayor put forth this resolution last fall, I asked if this was the same company that put them up during the Duchessi administration and she said no. While they are quite similar the other company went out of business; maybe this is a reincarnation. When I was with ABC we came up with a theme, One Community Many Cultures and sold those banners. It was a way to raise money for the baskets and banners at the same time. The banners were taken down and are in storage in city hall. The mayor came up with her own theme, part of her marketing campaign and had banners made accordingly. I did mention at a recent council meeting that they frankly looked like crap, they are too busy and at least half of every banner is advertising. They are too busy. But they were sold to the businesses and I do not know what the terms of the contract are in relation to length of time they will be up. The mayor did say after the meeting they were not presented that way to her, and so she was going to order some plain flag banners to offset these busy ones for the other poles.

    But after seeing all the signs and the banners there are way too many in such a small two block area. And then there is the Waterfront sign in front of the bank. There is never enough time to read it. I am not surprised that someone was distracted. It seems it may be something the planning board could address.

    I do hope you are okay, along with the car.

    • Linda

      That is true about the Waterfront sign! Not only can you not read half of it before the light changes to go it is not updated fast enough!! Trying to read all the adds-someone behind you will beep their horn because the ,light has changed and you are still trying to read the adds! Also the minute that event has past-they should take it down!!!

  3. If you look closely, the original banners are still on the smaller black lamposts with the newer Ad/banners on the larger streetlight poles. About six City of Amsterdam banners within a thirty ft section of street. The majority of these banners have different advertisements for local businesses.

  4. diane

    Talk about distraction. Way too much:) Way too busy:) Less is More!

  5. The electronic sign was another one of those things that sprung out of the brain of then-Assemblyman Paul Tonko with zero input from the city government. After it was a “fait accompli” he informed the city that naturally his generous gift of taxpayer money would require the city to pay for the electricity and upkeep (not the Waterfront Foundation) and, of course, when the foundation ran out of cash the city ended up taking over the operation as well, just like the park itself which wasn’t supposed to cost the city anything.

  6. I like the idea of decorative banners and of allowing businesses to sponsor them, but I have to agree that the way it’s being done is cluttering the look of the street.

    From a design perspective, the banners themselves are cluttered. And they don’t match with original blue/white banners that are on the other side of the street.

    My suggestion would be to stick with one consistent design (I like the original blue/white ones better) and just add the business name below it – all in the same font – no logo – no other verbiage or sales pitches. I think that would look alot better and would be less distracting.

    As far as the traffic lights – the angle of the hills makes it very easy to mistake which lights are the ones you are approaching and which ones are at the next intersection. My sister got in an accident years ago in the same manner as you did. Not sure how to fix that.

    • robert purtell

      “Sign Sign everywhere a sign
      Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
      Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign”

    • I took a closer look as I was driving on that section today (risky, I know!) – The blue and white signs are on both sides of the streets. I do believe the American Flag signs say “Montgomery County” in the upper right hand corner. Hmmmm… maybe they weren’t put up by the city???

      • I do believe they were contracted by the City but the Ads may have been paid for by local merchants. In any case, there are way too many on that stretch of Church Street.
        I don’t recall seeing any of the City banners on the East End entrance to the City or on true East Main Street (east of Riverfront Center).

  7. Rob Millan

    Only in Amsterdam can a creative (although not unique) way to generate money like taking out ad space on a banner be lambasted.

    • It is not the ad space causing the problem. It is the concentration of signs in such a small area that is distracting drivers. I’m sure you would feel differently if it was your car hit by the distracted driver.

    • Those signs look gaudy and in my opinion, they don’t improve the appearance of the downtown area, which is an important aspect of marketing the city.

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