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Jul 16, 2019 3:41 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Signs On Wheels May Sidestep Towns' Billboard Bans

An advertisement for Montauk Iced Tea on a Billboards on Wheels truck in Southampton.           BEN KAVA
Jul 16, 2019 4:42 PM

The East End has long limited outdoor commercial advertising: In the late 1970s, billboards and other signs intended for advertising purposes were prohibited in both East Hampton and Southampton towns.

Now, an influx of mobile signs attached to the flatbeds of trucks are providing a loophole for companies to broadcast messages.

The mobile billboards, largely operated by Billboards On Wheels, have been parked along major roads as far west as Southampton and as far east as Montauk.

In Southampton, advertisements for Montauk Iced Tea and Tate’s Cookies, among others, line County Road 39 and village streets. In East Hampton Town, a billboard advertising The Sloppy Tuna, a beachside restaurant in Montauk, prompted a complaint to be filed around a month ago, according to David Betts, the public safety director of East Hampton.

East Hampton and Southampton towns have both long banned stationary billboards. In the late 1970s, Southampton instituted a ban on outdoor advertising, citing concerns about aesthetics and public safety, according to State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., a former Southampton Town attorney.

The law included an amortization statute designed to allow the owners of previously in-use billboards to get a return on their investment in the signs before their eventual removal, Mr. Thiele said. Even with such a statute, many local billboard owners were upset about the ban, and Suffolk Outdoor Advertising Inc. sued Southampton on the basis of what it said were its First Amendment rights.

In the early 1980s, the case reached the State Supreme Court, which ruled that Southampton did, in fact, have the authority to regulate billboards.

Today, distinctions in the wording of the two town codes may result in a different approach to regulating mobile billboards.

In East Hampton Town, a billboard is defined as “an outdoor sign located elsewhere than upon the same lot upon which the business is located.” The town code holds that flashing, blinking or flickering signs, along with any signs that exceed 10 feet in height or can be classified by definition as billboards, are illegal in East Hampton. Absent from East Hampton’s town code, however, is a direct mention of moving advertisements.

“There are a lot of technicalities in the town code” regarding billboards and signs, Mr. Betts said. Roughly a month ago, East Hampton Ordinance Enforcement received a report from Town Police about a mobile billboard advertising The Sloppy Tuna. When ordinance officers went to investigate, the sign was no longer there, Mr. Betts said in a phone interview on Monday.

Although the East Hampton Town code does not directly target mobile signs, Mr. Betts said that if such a mobile sign is on private property, it might be a violation. He also said that any sign promoting a business parked in front of that same establishment might also be in violation of town code.

“We need to look at every situation specifically,” he stressed. “It’s a case-by-case basis.”

For its part, the Southampton Town code, which bans billboards and defines them much as East Hampton does, does not permit “flashing or moving signs.” Mobile billboards “are not legal in the Town of Southampton,” said Michael Chui, an ordinance enforcement officer in Southampton.

As of Monday, Southampton had received no complaints about mobile billboards, said Steven Troyd, public safety and emergency management administrator in Southampton.

Billboards on Wheels, the company whose trucks carry advertisements for Montauk Iced Tea, The Sloppy Tuna and Dan’s Papers Taste of Two Forks summer event, among others, boasts the advantages of moving signs on their website: “The reason outdoor mobile marketing and advertising works … [is] because unlike radio, TV, or print ads they can’t change the station, fast-forward us or throw us away.

“With our in-your-face mobile advertising approach, our clients have had huge success with their marketing campaigns,” it continues.

“We will certainly respond to any complaints” of mobile advertisements in East Hampton, Mr. Betts said, but he also noted that as of Monday there had not been enough complaints to turn the issue over to the Town Board.

The two major concerns about billboards, Mr. Thiele said, are public safety and aesthetics. Billboards “are a distraction on the highway,” he said, and “whether they are stationary or mobile, the same concerns apply.”

Billboards on Wheels had not returned several requests for comment as of Tuesday, nor had The Sloppy Tuna.

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Motor vehicle exhaust contains carbon monoxide and lots of other yuckiness -- recent poor air quality in certain village locations been breathtaking.
By Aeshtron (431), Southampton on Jul 21, 19 10:45 AM
There's this big 60 foot billboard thing on Sunrise that just popped up...
By lirider (288), Hampton Bays on Jul 21, 19 9:47 PM
Looks good to me, the land of "no" can't quash that American entrepreneurial spirit.
By Preliator Lives (437), Obamavillie on Jul 22, 19 8:29 AM
We have a drug epidemic and we are worried about trucks with signs and leaf blowers.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 22, 19 9:35 AM