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Brookhaven Town's sign ordinance is upheld by state's highest court

The state's highest court has upheld a Town of Brookhaven law that bans commercial signs from publicly held land.

The Court of Appeals last week unanimously reversed a lower court decision that had ruled the town law was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals said the Brookhaven sign code "directly serves the town's valid interests in traffic safety and aesthetics."

The decision stems from an appeal filed by a Holbrook business, On Sight Mobile Opticians, after the company pleaded guilty in 2012 to charges that it had illegally posted advertising signs on public land along a town highway in 2011.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine announced the decision on Tuesday during a town board meeting. "We do have a right to regulate the right of way on town roads," Romaine said in an interview. "The court agreed that this is publicly owned land, and people cannot use it to advertise their personal or political or commercial messages."

The Court of Appeals ruling reverses a state appellate court decision last year that threw out On Sight's earlier guilty plea and also ruled that Section 57A-11 of the town sign code was unconstitutional because other sections of the code improperly discriminated against certain forms of speech.

An attorney for On Sight, Raymond Negron of Mount Sinai, said he agreed with the Court of Appeals decision, but said it only affects one section of the sign law. Other sections, including those defining signs and assessing fines, are not affected, he said.

"Although you can be guilty for 57A-11, you can't fine anybody for it," Negron said in an interview. "The point is, what's a sign? . . . What they've done now is actually create confusion."

Romaine said the town has not cited companies for sign code violations since the Court of Appeals decision but plans to step up enforcement next year. The town has one employee assigned to remove illegal signs and plans to hire an additional part-time worker next month to take down signs, he said.

"It costs us a small fortune to keep the town looking good," Romaine said.

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