Displaying gas prices at the entrance of Playland Park would be wise, a judge has ruled, but the Sunoco station that illuminated the numbers in red ran afoul of a city of Rye sign law.
City Court Judge Joseph L. Latwin dismissed a criminal charge against Vera & Magda Corp., the Larchmont owner of the gas station property, but noted that city council could amend the law to make it enforceable.
Now, Latwin said, it is foreseeable that the city will fix the flaws and file new charges, “and we will be back soon to deal with the issues.”
The Sunoco at Forest Avenue and Playland Parkway is the only gas station within a two-mile radius. A lot of traffic is not local when Playland is open, so travelers unfamiliar with the area and in need of gas would be “ready customers,” Latwin said in an Aug. 29 decision, “if they knew it was there.”
The station posts gas prices in illuminated red numbers at the pumps and on a freestanding Sunoco sign.
Rye requires businesses to get a sign permit and approval from the Board of Architectural Review “as to design, colors, materials, illumination, location and size.”
Anyone who fails to abide by the law can be fined up to $250 and imprisoned up to 15 days.
Last year, the city cited Vera & Magda Corp.
Latwin ruled that the charging papers were factually insufficient. They do not specify how Vera & Magda Corp. is responsible, state how and what violation was committed, identify the offending sign, explain how illuminated prices violate the law or assert that neither sign has a permit.
“The bald, conclusionary allegation that the defendant committed a violation does not suffice,” he ruled.
But the city does require a sign permit, he said, and the law can be enforced.
Vera & Magda argued that the signs were installed before the city enacted the law in 1999, and that the gas station operator, not the property owner, is responsible.
Latwin is quite familiar with the issues. Before he became a judge, he had represented two previous operators of the gas station. As a former city councilman and member of the architectural board, he was involved in passing the law.
Vera & Magda “cannot escape responsibility,” he ruled. The property owner is responsible for all signs on a property and must remove any for which there is no permit.
Latwin also noted that the city law conflicts with a state law that requires gas stations to post prices at the pumps that are clearly visible to motorists.
The city requires illuminated signs to be white. City council, Latwin observed, was probably more concerned with intensity than color, but the restriction makes no sense because red is less visible than white.
Latwin said he had suggested that the city fix the law and give Vera & Magda an opportunity to get a permit.
“Unfortunately, the parties let that opportunity to resolve this case pass.”
Kristen K. Wilson, of Blanchard & Wilson in White Plains, represented Rye, and Larchmont attorney Donald S. Mazin represented Vera & Magda.