Local Business Challenges Lawn Sign Ordinance

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The owners of the Maplewood-based tech startup WhoWeUse asked Township Committee members to reconsider the town’s lawn sign ordinance last night.

WhoWeUse’s map pin-shaped blue signs have been popping up on lawns around town in recent weeks, prompting a thread on MaplewoodOnline and a story in this publication. Last week, township employees removed many of the signs only to have the crop up again. A Township ordinance allows business signs on lawns only while a contractor is actively working on a home.

At the Tuesday night Township Committee meeting, WhoWeUse co-founders John Garbarino and Spencer Ante argued that their business and the signs are a boon to the town, “drawing attention to local businesses.” Garbarino said that as WhoWeUse grows — the app allows users to find recommendations for local services and businesses from trusted friends — Maplewood should benefit. The founders hope to soon be renting office space in Maplewood and hire more local tech talent.

“We are Maplewood proud,” said Garbarino. “We can put Maplewood on the map.”

Garbarino also argued that the homes displaying the signs are doing so voluntarily. “You call these ads. These are our friends.” He said that WhoWeUse was not planning to make more signs and only planned to keep them up until harsh winter conditions hit town.

Ante said that WhoWeUse wanted to “be treated the same as other local businesses,” meaning contractors. He argued that residents should be able to display the signs as long as homeowners are using the service.

Township Committee members were sympathetic but found the arguments a “slippery slope” that could lead to an overwhelming proliferation of signs, especially for businesses like WhoWeUse whose services do not have a specific end date. “Essentially it is still advertising,” said Mayor Vic DeLuca.

Ultimately Committeewoman India Larrier said, reluctantly, “They should come down.”

At one point, Township Counsel Roger Desiderio read the pertinent ordinance aloud and said the signs could not be allowed without changing the ordinance. The ordinance stated that homeowners in violation of the ordinance can receive a summons giving them 10 days to take the signs down or risk a fine.

The Township Committee referred the matter to the Code Enforcement Committee. Meanwhile, the signs must come down.

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