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Wheatfield alters electronic sign law, names Brooks town attorney

WHEATFIELD – The Town Board put a new electronic sign law aside temporarily this week to give the Planning Board, which created the measure, a chance to review some changes.

Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said the modifications came in the wake of objections raised at a June 8 public hearing.

Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole, serving at the last meeting before his retirement, said one of the main alterations was to delete the provision that required electronic signs to be turned off at 9 p.m. Several speakers at the hearing said the provision would harm businesses that stay open late.

The law also was altered to allow businesses on corner lots to have two signs, one for each street. The previous draft restricted them to one electronic sign. Another change was to allow businesses or organizations that already have electronic signs that can’t be dimmed to keep them instead of having to comply with the brightness limitations in the proposed law.

The law continues to limit new electronic signs to commercial or industrial zones, although churches, schools and emergency services in other zones are allowed to seek a special-use permit from the town Zoning Board of Appeals.

Also, the law bars images on the signs from changing more often than once every 10 seconds, and bans flashing or scrolling messages.

Meanwhile, the Town Board voted 4-1 to hire Matthew E. Brooks, who serves as town prosecutor and holds a similar post in the City of Lockport, to succeed O’Toole as town attorney.

Cliffe said Brooks asked to be paid a retainer of $54,000 a year. He will receive half that amount in monthly payments for the remainder of 2015. The appointment is effective until the end of this year.

O’Toole, who served 24 years as town attorney, recommended Brooks as his successor in his retirement letter to the Town Board.

The dissenter was Councilman Arthur Gerbec, who said he’d prefer to hire Michael J. Norris, the former Niagara County Republican Party chairman, who is now attorney for the Town of Lockport.

Brooks, who will continue as town prosecutor, is a partner in another Lockport law firm, Jones Hogan & Brooks.

O’Toole also has been serving as Wheatfield’s human resources director for the past eight years; the board took no action on filling that position.

The board approved O’Toole’s last legal action for the town, an out-of-court settlement with the North Tonawanda Little League, which will pay the town $4,000 for water damage caused to the town Youth Center gymnasium when a batted ball struck a sprinkler head during a February 2014 indoor practice.

The board also ratified Cliffe’s declaration of an emergency at the Community Center so repairs to wall and ceiling damage caused by a leaky roof can be made without bidding.

In closed session, the board heard a proposal from a wireless phone company to erect new cell towers on town property.