The sign war has begun in Bayside.
On one side are neighbors of Bayside High School who want an LED electronic display removed and on the other are the principal and parents who want it to remain.
The sign was erected earlier this fall outside the school on Corporal Kennedy Street. It cost $37,000, with the funds raised by students about three years ago. Principal Michael Athy said it took that long to get permits and the proper approvals from the city. But the Department of Buildings said this week that it may be illegal.
In October, the matter was raised at a Community Board 11 meeting by member Edward Braunstein, who complained the sign is a distraction for drivers and not appreciated by neighbors, who said that when it first went up, the sign was on all night.
Board member Frank Skala, who is also president of the East Bayside Homeowners Association, met with Athy in early October to discuss the matter. Skala said last Wednesday he is still waiting for a response and now he’s angry.
“I don’t like being summarily dismissed by him,” Skala said, adding Athy “dissed” him and others who oppose the sign in a long message to the high school staff in his weekly announcements of Oct. 26-30.
In it Athy wrote, “Residents are apparently being forced to look through the perfectly aligned windows with curtains raised in several neighbors’ houses and then through the trees of Raymond O’Connor Park in order to have their retinas damaged by our ‘Vegas-like’ display which burns well through the night; that display having been approved by the zoning board and community board in a process which took several years.”
Skala, who got a copy of the bulletin and forwarded it to the Queens Chronicle, noted the sign was not approved by the community board or Board of Standards and Appeals. C.B. 11 District Manager Susan Seinfeld said the sign contractor had called her office to get assistance contacting the Department of Buildings, but that it was not a community board matter.
“I was aware of it and it went through all the bells and whistles,” Seinfeld said. “But it didn’t go through our office.”
Andy Rothman, EBHA vice president and a member of C.B. 11, said it all boils down to if the sign is legal. “I went through zoning resolutions and found that an illuminated sign is not allowed in a residential area,” Rothman said. “If it’s illegal, it’s illegal.”
Carly Sullivan, spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings, said Monday illuminated signs are not permitted in residential districts, except those for a hospital or hospital-related facility. She is referring the case to the sign enforcement unit.
Janet McEneaney, another C.B. 11 member, wonders why an LED sign was a priority for the school. “It’s an eyesore and not fair to the neighbors,” McEneaney said. “It would be nice to teach people to live without using massive amounts of electricity. I wish they had done something different with the money.”
After getting the initial complaints, the principal changed the sign’s hours of operation. It now runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but that’s not good enough for Skala. At his recent EBHA meeting, members voted unanimously to oppose the sign and demand it be removed.
David Solano, president of the Bayside High School PTA said he’s only heard about two complaints, one from Skala and one from a person who lives two blocks away from the sign. “Skala thinks the sign is ugly and is making it an issue,” Solano said. “I talked to people in the park and to parents and all are happy about the sign.”
He defended the principal, calling him a good neighbor, who listened to complaints and turned the sign off at 7 p.m. “The sign is not that big or bright,” Solano added. “The principal has asked for opinions and parents like it, saying ‘enough is enough.’”
Skala, however, says he has the support of state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and Councilman-elect Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), although that could not be immediately confirmed. “The community has to come first,” Skala said.
Ironically, Skala, as president of the Bayside High School New Alumni Association, donated twice to the sign fund over a two-year period. “The alumni association donated $1,000 in 2004 and another $1,000 the next year because they needed it,” he said. “I didn’t know it was going to be an electric sign.”