A sign of our times

In a letter to the editor, Susan Bachelder writes, "The problem here is that if the town considers itself above the law, then everyone might, by right, consider themselves above the law too."

To the editor:

I am pretty sure that the three members of the Egremont Selectboard wear masks and socially distance, nor do I think they would flagrantly disobey state mask laws as we see our president do, claiming he is above the law. So it is shocking to find out that the board of Egremont has willfully broken the laws of Egremont, claiming that they, too, are above the laws of the town.

LED sign in front of the Egremont Town Hall. Photo: Susan Bachelder

As seemingly unrepentant as our president, in spite of a groundswell of negative responses, the selectboard has not made any move to correct its error. In fact, when it was suggested that a complaint be brought against the town with the building inspector who is responsible for enforcing the zoning laws, it was conveyed to me that the town is, according to counsel, above the law. As the president claims to be, the town of Egremont does not have to abide by its own town laws — stunning news, but apparently true. We are talking about a violation of the Zoning Bylaw 4.3.2.5: Prohibited Signs — not an earth-shattering issue, but on theoretical grounds, and potentially hazardous as a distraction while driving in a 50 mph zone, how the presence of this electronic sign board can possibly be defended is interesting. But there you have it.

For those who might not understand how the zoning bylaw works: Anything in there you can do “by law”; anything not in there or directly prohibited, you cannot do and will need a permit of some sort. The signs anyone can have, as Egremont is single-zoned for both residential and business, should have a white or incandescent light and be shaded, as the Old Mill or Kenver signs are. What are “prohibited” under 4.3.2.5 are moving LED letter banners that might attract the eye with repeated motion, like the new electronic green LED moving banner sign outside Town Hall. It is a prohibited sign. Period. Unless, of course, you are the town and are above the law, as they apparently see themselves.

The problem here is that if the town considers itself above the law, then everyone might, by right, consider themselves above the law, too. Laws are hard-fought for compromises between all the citizens who agree in final consensus that we will all abide by them. There are several reasons to support 4.3.2.5. It has been shown by the AMA, among other groups, that downward directed incandescent lighting at 2700K is the least damaging to the environment. On a more local note, out-of-character signage such as running LED banners allowed for any business in town could negatively impact the economic value of our two historic villages and the rural and agricultural environment the town is zealous to protect in its promotion of historic tourism.

The tone-deaf response to the aesthetic, historic and legal implications of this sign, and the chair’s suggestion that the legal remedy is a “let’s see if it all blows over ” attitude, amplifies regionally the lack of respect we are watching play out on the national stage. Sadly, we are simply another Sign of Our Times.

Susan P. Bachelder
Egremont