But borough solicitor Albert Olizi said the local government will hold off on further action until it has a chance to review its sign ordinance.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 30, 2017
Haddon Heights resident Danielle Linaris was leaving her home to pick up her child from preschool when she saw a letter in her door.
It was from the borough code enforcement officer, Ron Newell, citing her for being in violation of the local sign ordinance.
“I’m thinking, ‘What sign do I have?’” Linaris said.
In her front yard, there are three.
One says “Welcome to Our Garden.” Another marks her property as being secured by ADT. The third says “Hate Has No Home Here” in six languages.
When Linaris called Newell to ask about the notice, he said it was the last of those signs that she’d been cited for, because he’d deemed it an advertisement. She argued that it was free speech.
“How is it an advertising sign?” she said. “There’s no phone number, no website. All I’m stating is that hate has no home in my house.”
Newell said the sign was prohibited by local ordinance 450-135, which limits residential signage to official directional, parking, and wayfinding signs; for rent or for sale signs; construction signs; and signs for schools and churches. He invited Linaris to apply for a permit for her sign, which he assured her would be denied, after which she could plead her case before the borough government.
“I said, ‘That’s great, I’ll do both of those,’ and at that point, I called two of my friends,” Linaris said.
Linaris is no stranger to local sign law. Through her parent-teacher association, she routinely puts up signs advertising school and recreational events—and withdraws them within the 21-day statutory period outlined in the borough ordinance.
“My issue is that he compared me to the roofing companies,” Linaris said.
“There’s nothing about this sign that is political, that is business. This is how I feel. This is my home.”
Linaris said another of her friends on Second Avenue was similarly cited for her “Hate Has No Home Here” sign Thursday, but pointed out that a house on Seventh Avenue has had a sign expressing support for police for months.
She believes they were victims of selective enforcement.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “If you’re going to carry it through, then go for it.
“I could put [the sign] in my window,” Linaris said. “It’s not on my curb strip. It’s in my flower garden, and it’s been there since before the women’s march. It’s not a big deal, but don’t tell me I can’t have it on my house.”
‘Let’s hold off for now’
On Thursday, Haddon Heights Solicitor Albert Olizi told NJ Pen that the issue would be put on hold until he’d had an opportunity to review the statute and confer with the borough council. In the meantime, Olizi said no further citations would be issued for signs like Linaris’.
“I called [Newell] and said, ‘Hold off, let’s take a look at this,'” he said.
Olizi said political signage has been an issue in Haddon Heights ever since the contentious 2000 U.S. presidential election season. Prior to that, he said the town had enjoyed an informal understanding that had kept things cooler.
“It was very nasty,” Olizi said. “Ever since that election, you have signs all over town.”
Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the Haddon Heights central business district, where nine storefronts in the 500 and 600 block of Station Avenue still feature window signs reading “God Bless America – Still a Patriotic Statement.”
They were distributed in a flurry last year after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) formally objected to students at Glenview Elementary School speaking the phrase after their daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
By the terms of the same ordinance under which Newell cited Linaris, these signs also seem to fall outside of borough statute.
But such are the complications of free speech and statutory language.
The “Hate Has No Home Here” project is avowedly nonpartisan. Created by members of a Chicago neighborhood in mid-November 2016, its purpose is defined as “a public declaration that hate speech and hateful actions against others will not be tolerated by the person or organization displaying the sign:
This sign is a statement that, while it is okay to disagree with others civilly regarding issues, it is not okay to intimidate or attack a person or group—verbally or physically—based on attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, political party, or sexual orientation. The colors of the sign—red, white, and blue—are the colors of the American flag, not any political party.
“Sign ordinances are problems everywhere,” Olizi said, adding, “this is not the first time we’ve had this issue.” He said that some residents have even objected to signage advertising community events at the Station Avenue gateway.
“It’s good it was brought to our attention,” Olizi said. “You’ve got to be consistent, and we’re going to make sure [we are].”
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