You see them everywhere in town -- cardboard and plastic signs stuck into the ground on small wire feet and sometimes affixed to utility poles. They advertise community events, summer camps and for-profit businesses. And most of them are illegal.
At some busy intersections, there may be as many as nine or 10 signs massed together, jostling for attention. At the intersection of Black Rock Turnpike and Stillson Road, and in front of the Fairfield Woods Branch Library, signs pop up like mushrooms.
Signs were so numerous recently they blocked a fire hydrant, and almost completely obscured the view of yellow lilies planted in a green triangle at Farist and Stillson roads. Some organizations and businesses have even stuck their signs on the historic green in front of old Town Hall.
"It's like dandelions," said Joseph Devonshuk, the town's planning director. "These signs are violations."
According to Devonshuk, town zoning inspectors will remove the signs when they see them, or contact the organization or business that posted the sign to have it removed. But keeping the public rights-of-way clear of all of the signs all of the time is overwhelming, he said.
"I could have one inspector spending all day every day (pulling the signs) and there would still be violations," he said.
Signs on private property, such as a church advertising its spaghetti supper or a homeowner letting a contractor place a sign in the lawn while a job is in progress, are legal, Devonshuk said. And although signs advertising events for nonprofit organizations may technically be in violation, town inspectors usually leave those alone.
But businesses planting signs along town roadways is a practice that zoning officials particularly want to end. Any type of profit-making business is clearly in violation, the planning director said. Harried zoning inspectors, however, do not always have the time to determine whether organizations are profit-making entities or not. A sign touting a youth summer camp, for example, could be posted by either a nonprofit organization or a business.
John Jones, the president of the Greenfield Hill Village Improvement Society, said his organization has waged a campaign against any signs that obscure views, which can be especially dangerous when they impede sight lines for drivers, he said.
"They're everywhere. They pop up in the spring like daffodils," he added.
The signs not only seem to be more numerous these days, Jones said, they also appear to be larger than in the past. He and others in his neighborhood association have spent time calling owners of signs that violate town regulations to ask that the signs be removed -- and not to post them again.
But it's been a struggle and signs keep proliderating, Jones said. "Pervasive is the word I would use," he said. "It's out of control."
Lib Denure, the owner of Hazel Daze boutique, 86 Post Road, ordered 20 signs advertising her boutique from an online company based in Michigan. After one of the signs she placed around town was taken, she called the Fairfield zoning office. "They told me that they are illegal and that they take them down whenever they see them," she said. "But those signs are everywhere."
Several signs in front of Fairfield Warde High School advertise SAT prep courses and tutoring offered by the business, Huntington Learning Centers, which has a center in Westport. The Westport center directed inquiries to its national marketing department. Laura Gehringer, the Huntington's national marketing director, said that the company would not knowingly break the law.
"Our policy, obviously, is to obey whatever the local regulations require," she said.
According to Jones, the problem has a lot to do with residents and out-of-towners not understanding the town's zoning regulations on sign use and placement.
"We have to educate the public," he said.