Yard sale signs illegally cluttering public right of way, Cape police say

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Jamie Steger, Cape Girardeau Police nuisance abatement officer, removes an illegal sign from the city's right-of-way Friday, May 18, 2012 at Cape Rock Drive and Kingshighway. (Fred Lynch)

Ty Metzger admits it -- it's not the crime of the century.

But the Cape Girardeau police officer says that doesn't mean signs placed in publicly owned rights of way aren't a problem. And during the summer, when dozens of yard sales dot the city every weekend, the problem only gets worse. Add to that the fact that it's an election year with plenty of local candidates, and Metzger said the signs are getting out of control.

"It's everybody," said Metzger, the department's nuisance abatement officer. "We've contacted people and cited people, and they continue to do it. It's like, really? Is it that hard?"

Municipal law says that no signs other than official traffic signs can be legally placed within any public right of way, city attorney Eric Cunningham said. Signs that are in public right of way are subject to removal, and many are. Metzger's written his share of citations, too, which carry a possible fine up to $500 and up to 90 days in city jail, though most first-time offenders' fines are closer to $100, he said.

Publicly owned right of way includes utility poles, city-owned property such as parks and areas along most of the city's main thoroughfares. A few hot spots for signs are along Kingshighway, William Street, Perryville Road and Cape Rock Drive. Metzger understands people are trying to get their message out, but the signs need to be placed only on private property.

Nuisance abatement officers already have to monitor for high weeds, animal calls, trash violations and other citable offenses. Removing the signs eats up officer time, Metzger said. But the signs also cause other problems. When the signs aren't reclaimed following the sale or the election, they contribute to the city's litter problem, Metzger said.

When a sign is stapled to a utility pole -- Metzger said that's an automatic citable offense -- it damages public property. One utility pole on Kingshighway near Arena Park was riddled with staples. Sometimes people use nails.

"Now these guys have to climb the poles [for maintenance] without getting cut, injured and who knows what," Metzger said.

Nails and staples remain from illegal signs posted on a utility pole Friday at Perryville Road and Cape Rock Drive. (Fred Lynch)

The signs can also be a distraction to drivers as they try to read what are usually small signs with small print, he said. That can stall traffic or lead to an accident.

"It's not the sign that's that big a deal, it's what's going to come from it," Metzger said. "Not to mention that you could get a ticket. If you have a garage sale and you end up making 50 bucks, the ticket's going to cost you a hundred. Is it worth it?"

Still, at least one member of the Cape Girardeau City Council has said that the sign ordinance is a bit confusing. Councilwoman Kathy Swan said most members of the public have no idea where public right of way stops and private property begins.

In December, Swan called for a review of the sign ordinance that has yet to happen. While she wasn't specifically referring to yard sale signs, some businesses have had promotional signs removed from public right of way. Swan suggested again this week that the sign ordinance is not the most "business-friendly."

Swan called for the review after 15 Lutheran Family and Children's holiday home tour signs were removed by police for being in public rights of way. The regional director of the not-for-profit organization attended a city council meeting and echoed Swan's comments that most people have no idea where public right of way is exactly. Swan said this week she was not sure why a review has yet to take place.

But the city did send out 700 letters to businesses, civic organizations and churches in November asking that they follow the ordinance. The letter also asked such groups to register temporary signs so the city can better track them to ensure that the law is being enforced. The sign ordinance regulates all manner of signs, from affixed signs to businesses to motion signs. Since those letters have gone out, Neil Conrad, the city's property maintenance and zoning inspector, said they have had no problems with businesses conforming to the law.

But Metzger says the banner signs continue to be a problem.

"We try to be as lenient as we can with it," he said. "Because is it really the crime of the century? No. But people need to be aware that they could get a ticket."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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