December 2, 2021

Cortland restricts curb painting

Move in response to controversy over political displays

Todd R. McAdam/contributing photographer

The U.S. flag flies over downtown Cortland on in this Cortland Standard file photo.

The city of Cortland Common Council approved a law Tuesday restricting the painting and marking of curbs, a move that followed controversy over displays of political and other public statements.

The law, approved 8-0, will take effect immediately upon filing in the state Secretary of State.

Mayor Brian Tobin said his first request for curb painting came over two years ago. He added that it gained some popularity since then with residents on streets like Groton Avenue, Port Watson and Hubbard streets recently painting their curbs blue in support of local law enforcement.

The council on Sept. 1 voted 2-5 against a request to allow a Back the Blue mural to be painted in front of the city police department on Court Street, after the council voted Aug. 4 to allow the mural to be painted. The council had previously permitted a Black Lives Matter mural on Main Street, but decided against allowing more murals while it considers a policy on matter.

According to the document drafted by the city’s lawyer, Ric VanDonsel, the city “has determined that upon the interest of citizens to mark street curbs that such could be dangerous and confusing and therefore should be prevented.”

The law prohibits marking any curb located on any highway, street, roadway or vehicle pathway in the city.

Other rules state any such marking existing at the time of the passing of the law will be removed on or before April 1, 2021, the law states. VanDonsel said the city will leave it up to the residents who have painted and marked curbs to find ways to remove it.

Definition in the law for curbs is “a vertical sloping member along the edge of a roadway clearly defining the pavement edge.”

For marking, it is “any writing, painting, drawing, staining, carving, edging or other marking made by the use of chalk, paint, ink, spray can, knife, pencil or any other marking device. It continues by saying “material of any work name, lettering, inspection, figure, design or other representation made upon a portion of the curb.”

The law also states that “any violation hereunder punishable by a fine of no less than $200 and no more than $750 and shall include reimbursement for any cost of restoring the curb incurred in the city of Cortland.”

The council on Tuesday collectively agreed to leave sidewalk painting alone unless it becomes an issue.

Aldermen, however, drew a distinction between painting curbs and sidewalks, which were not included in the law.

Alderwoman Kathryn Silliman (D-2nd Ward) said she is all for sidewalk painting if the chalk or markings used can be rinsed off.

Alderman Bill Carpenter (D-6th Ward) said it is private property and that “there shouldn’t ever be a local law” on sidewalk painting.

“Leave it as is and just don’t touch it unless it’s a problem,” he said.

Alderman Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward) said if people want to make a First Amendment message on their sidewalks “they should be able to.”