North Salem Town Government considering new rules around lighting, landscaping and signage


Photo by Mike B for Pexels

The Town of North Salem is cracking down on residential and commercial lighting, landscaping and signage. Proposed zoning code amendments will place new restrictions arounds things like: how many days residents and business owners can display holiday lights; the design, construction and installation of signs, and the type and style of landscaping projects.

The proposed changes are reflected in two draft documents the North Salem Town Board will discuss at its regular meeting Tuesday evening. Cynthia Curtis, chair of the North Salem Planning Board, said the changes were developed in response to complaints going back “several years.”

Curtis said that the town’s building inspector, Jim Duhigg, had previously mentioned at a town meeting that he couldn’t do anything about lighting complaints because the current code doesn’t address residential lighting. “I know that complaints have gone into the Supervisor's office and the building department. I've been stopped on the street and asked when the town will write something,” Curtis added.

Residential lighting

Proposed changes to the town’s code regarding exterior residential lighting include:

  • Holiday lights permitted for no more than 30 days
  • Lighting to be designed to provide minimal lighting necessary to carry out functional aspects of site operations
  • Wall-mounted lights not to exceed 15 feet in height
  • Planning Board can require a site’s lighting intensity be reduced on all or part of the site at different times of day
  • Dark-sky compliant lighting - minimizes glare while reducing “light trespass” and skyglow
  • High pressure sodium lights, moving lights and search lights will be prohibited
  • Existing lights that don’t conform to the new standards may be required to replace to conforming light sources

Under the proposed new guidelines, holiday lights put up the day after Thanksgiving, for example, would be required to come down on Christmas Day. “The thirty day period was suggested as a reasonable length of time to propose,” Curtis said. “The Town Board will be putting this up for public hearing and they will make the final call based upon input from the public. No one anticipates the building inspector to drive around town looking for issues, but when a complaint is logged, he needs something in place with which to work to address them.


Property owners will also be subject to more stringent rules around landscaping under the proposed new code.

Proposed changes include:

  • Native and noninvasive plant species should be the focus of landscaping plans
  • Landscaping to include a mixture of deciduous and evergreen shade and screen trees, ornamental trees, shrubs, perennials and ground covers other than lawn
  • Minimizing areas of lawn to reduce site maintenance and erosion concerns
  • Planning Board may require property owners to provide landscape plans developed by a New York State licensed landscape architect (only in cases requiring site development plan approval)


The Planning Board is proposing additional regulations on the design, construction, installation
and maintenance of signs in town in order to  "maintain and protect the attractive and harmonious visual image of the community."

Proposed amendments include:

  • Permits required for all signs, including established, replacement and altered existing signs
  • Planning Board to consider design criteria relating to sign location, size, proportions, scale, materials, texture, color, lettering and illumination
  • Signs in which the illuminating source is visible to the public way or any property line are prohibited
  • Signs with fluorescent or reflective paint are prohibited
  • Planning Board may require landscaping be used at the base of a freestanding sign

How the plans came to be

Curtis said, “a lot went into the preparation,” adding, “our planner brings suggestions to the table; we look at the Codes of our neighboring towns; we follow our adopted Comprehensive Plan. Also, we refer every draft to our building department and our Conservation Advisory Council.”

The Town Board, too, has been involved in ongoing development of these plans since 2020, when the Planning Board made their first referral. “We had feedback from the Town Board and incorporated those comments into the draft that they reviewed recently. This final draft incorporates those comments,” Curtis said.

What’s next?

Coming out of Tuesday’s session, the town board considers the draft and sets the public hearing. That hearing is likely to take place in September, according to Curtis, in order to maximize public input. “After the public hearing they may modify it based upon public input or they may adopt it. They will have to conduct a SEQR [New York State Environmental Quality Review] as well.”

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