A month after widespread protests, City Council passes moratorium on sign violations
In a win for small businesses, the new “Awnings Act” was passed by the City Council on Wednesday.
The bill — championed by Councilmember Rafael Espinal and co-sponsored by Councilmember Justin Brannan — imposes a two-year moratorium on the issuance of sign violations and creates an interagency task force to come up with long-term solutions to various sign permitting issues over the next years.
The bill also creates a temporary program to assist business-owners who have violations on the books dating back to June 1, 2006.
“I am incredibly proud to have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our small business community to create the Awnings Act,” Espinal said Wednesday. “Unfair penalties have burdened small businesses to such an extent that some were worried they would have to close for good. Today, we are changing that, and delivering relief to our small business community.”
The act was passed after small business owners rallied on the steps of City Hall and aired their grievances with the Department of Buildings (DOB) last month. The demonstrators said many businesses had been blindsided by sign and awning violations that, Espinal contended, had not been enforced at this volume in years.
According to city building codes, signs larger than 6 square feet require a special installation permit. At the end of 2018, a growing number of small businesses, including many that had their signs hanging for decades, were suddenly slammed by surprise fines.
Under the new legislation, hundreds of businesses slapped with illegal sign fines of up to $6,000 not have to pay a dime. Those that have already paid the fine will be offered discounted rates on permits for installing a new awning or sign and get a large chunk — 75 percent — of their money back.
The legislation also reduces the permit fees for hanging a new sign.
As tensions heightened around the issue, the DOB denied that the agency had increased its focus on signage.
Instead, the DOB cited a sizable increase in the number of 311 complaints made about signage.
Both Brannan and Espinal said that the spike in complaints could just be masked attacks on small businesses, many of them immigrant-owned.
“Frankly, unless a business is making people sick, endangering the public or treating people unfairly, I don’t see why the city should be fining them at all,” Brannan said. Prior to his election, Branna co-owned the Art Room in Bay Ridge his wife, Leigh, who now carries the torch. Last year, the Brannans’ business was hit a signage fine.
“This bill will help small businesses with signs they thought were perfectly legal but have suddenly been targeted with exorbitant fines,” Brannan said. “I’m proud to stand up not only for businesses facing new violations, but also for businesses that have already paid these unfair penalties.”
The bill will next head to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s desk to be signed, after which, certain provisions will go into effect immediately.
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