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City Council passes Awnings Act protecting small businesses hit with violations for improper signs

City Councilmen Rafael Espinal and Peter Koo rally with local businesses at Union Street — the once vibrant commercial strip in Flushing now barren due to sign penalties.
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The City Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of passing the Awnings Act, legislation supported by Flushing business owners that aims to provide relief to shop owners across the city following a sudden wave of violations for improper signs and awnings.

The Council voted 45-1 on Jan. 9 to pass the legislation that would immediately implement a two-year moratorium on the city Department of Building’s ability to issue any fines/violations relating to business signs.

The successful passage of the legislation comes a day after City Council Members Rafael Espinal and Peter Koo rallied with business owners on Flushing’s Union Street, which has become a barren strip of exposed brick and cement storefronts.

After receiving thousands of dollars in fines, dozens of businesses on the once vibrant Union Street were forced to remove their signs.

Koo said the Awnings Act will give small businesses a “fair chance to comply with the law.”

“We’ve seen entire blocks around the city preemptively remove their signs because the way that the city handled issuing violations was a business killer,” Koo said in a statement to TimesLedger. “Severe punitive penalties that can force small businesses to close must be handled with great care by the city, but that clearly was not the case with these sign violations. The Awnings Act will allow businesses to fix any outstanding violations without shutting them down. It’s the fair thing to do.”

Espinal, who represents the 37th District in Brooklyn, said they began putting together the integral piece of legislation when businesses in his district suddenly found themselves with $6,000 fines for signs they had up on their businesses for years.

Since November 2017, there have been over two thousand sign violations reported to 311 across the 5 boroughs, according to Espinal.

“The fine combined with the price tag of a new sign can be devastating to a business’ bottom line. As the sudden uptick in violations came to the awareness of my colleagues, we quickly worked together to institute a 2 year moratorium on any sign violations. Businesses will not have to feel the burden of these unjust fines while we work on comprehensive reform to end this unjust practice,” said Espinal.

Additionally, the legislation will also provide education and outreach where the DOB, DCP and SBS must develop an education program for small businesses covering accessory signs, regulations, and how to bring non-compliant signs into compliance.

A task force — comprised of small business owners, chambers of commerce from each borough, union rep, licensed sign hanger and representatives of various city agencies — will investigate predatory practices that might explain the concentration of violations in certain areas and a strategy for reform.

The task force will analyze an outreach strategy to make sure all businesses are better informed about regulations and how to avoid fines before the moratorium is lifted. Within 12 months, the task force must complete an evaluation of the relevance and appropriateness of current regulatory practices and evaluate sign hanging qualifications and if they should be changed.

City Councilman Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights was the only member who voted against the bill.

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

Updated 9:43 am, January 11, 2019
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Reader feedback

Angry dad from Bayside says:
Sorry but I don't feel bad for these people .When u have 50 signs almost all in a different language plastered on one building it looks really bad from flushing to great neck is becoming a mess . Make the store fronts nice and uniformed u wouldnt have to worry about fines .
Jan. 11, 5:37 am
Mike Seeley from Whitestone says:
The article did not comment if the City Counsel investigated and determined why there was a "sudden" wave of fines or what the fines were for. That would have made the reader more informed to form an opinion on the issue and if the Awning Act was the appropiate response.
Jan. 11, 1:48 pm
Anon says:
The fines arose from thousands of anonymous 311 complaints all filed at the same time, probably from a sign company looking to drum up business.
Jan. 11, 2:15 pm
Joe from Bayside says:
All the calls to 311 came from Celtic's mom's basement while I was giving it to her upstairs.
Jan. 11, 3:09 pm
Irish Red from Flushing says:
The article fails to list the violations for which the store owners were fined. If it is for failing to have the store name in English (as well as any other language), sometimes preventing the fire department or police from quickly identifying the store with a problem, the fines should have been far higher and the signs removed long ago for creating an illegal safety hazard .
Jan. 11, 3:47 pm
racist Whites from Queens says:
I like how all the Whites come out to make nasty racist comments when the story involves non-Whites. They will never be able to shake off their racist stereotype.
Jan. 11, 5:31 pm
Helton from Flushing says:
It took me looking in 4 other publications to find out why the signs were illegal and it had nothing to do with non-English lettering. According to the Kings County Politics website, the awnings were illegal according to existing regulations of which have been on the books since 1968. These include a mandate that all non-painted signs greater than six square feet in size must require a permit and placement by a licensed sign-hanger as well as neighborhood zoning laws. Now the interesting part is that all of the sign hanging companies are union shops, specifically employing workers from the Sheet Metal Workers JATC Local 137 in Long Island City. The rash of 311 anonymous complaints were suspected of being made by the sign hanging companies themselves, and all of these enforcement actions and fines would mean lots of cash in the pockets of the sign hanging companies. You know what they say - follow the money!
Jan. 11, 11:54 pm
PJ from Queens says:
racist Whites from Queens says: I like how all the Whites come out to make nasty racist comments when the story involves non-Whites. They will never be able to shake off their racist stereotype. Ok so say if there is a fire and the firemen only speak English. Then I have seen a lot of businesses with NO ADDRESS listed on their buildings or signs written in English. So would you sue the FDNY because they could not identify a place PROPERLY because they couldnt identify which building they had to go into? And In queens, it's even more confusing because you have roads, drives and avenues that are all the same number so you can have 56th road, 56th drive 56th Avenue. So say there was a business who called on 56th avenue stating that they smell smoke, they call the FDNY, the sign is written in another language, there is no address on the building and the FDNY gets there and smells nothing burning but then they accidentally went into a business on 56th drive instead which was the next block over. Wouldn't you think that by having a sign on a business that was written in English could avoid a tragedy from happening if the call came in for the address with the proper name of the business on it? The FDNY has to be quick with getting to places and by having PROPER signs with addresses written on them, tragedies could be avoided.
Jan. 12, 6:18 am
Mario da Ginny from Bayside says:
Apparently Joe from Bayside enjoys sexual activity with dead grandmothers, however I refuse to believe that because I was told, like Tony Soprano once said, "he's a fagggggg."
Jan. 13, 6:11 pm
Ben Jackinoff from Asstoria says:
Ah Mario and Joe...Me so hawny
Jan. 14, 9 pm

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