'YEAR OF THE BIBLE' ENDING STATE PERSUADES FIRM TO COVER 1983 SIGN

Shirley Armstrong Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: B1

Date: Wednesday, November 12, 1986

It has nothing to do with the separation of church and state, but New York is finally getting its way as the huge "Year of the Bible" sign will be covered over on a building alongside Interstate 787 in downtown Albany.


After two years of complaints by state officials, the attorney for the company that owns the building says the sign will most likely be painted over, probably in the spring. For three years, the sign on a wall of the Central Warehouse building owned by CW Associates has been unmistakably visible to motorists traveling on I-787, just south of the I-90 interchange. The state Department of Transportation contends the sign violates a section of the Highway Law, written to comply with the Federal Highway Beautification Act.


The Bible sign was due to be replaced soon anyway, said William Conway, the attorney for CW Associates in which Albany businessman Richard Gerrity is a partner. "We want to make our complete peace with the state," he said, "not because we feel we violated anything (but because) we don't want to have expensive litigation over something that would happen anyway."


Gerrity, who describes himself as a born-again Christian and is active in religious groups and activities, has said previously he got approval in 1981 to put signs on the building from Erastus Corning 2nd, the late Albany mayor. DOT officials said they chose not enforce the law against the first sign on the building because Corning had no objections to Gerrity's plan.


When several other signs were put up, including the one for the "Year of the Bible," the state acted in 1983 to have them removed.


Assistant Attorney General Edward M. Scher, representing DOT, and Conway were to argue the issue Monday before state Supreme Court Justice Lawrence E. Kahn.


After negotiations were held with a view to an out- of-court settlement, Scher said progress had been made and he was "hopeful" that arrangements for removal of the sign will be completed next week. He said there are still "some details to be ironed out."


Conway said the "Year of the Bible" was 1983, the year the sign first was painted on the building. He said state officials first started complaining about the sign in 1984 or 1985.


It might still be several months before the sign is removed because it's difficult to cover a sign painted on concrete when the temperature falls below 50, Conway said.


Scher said the federal government seeks nationwide uniformity in the regulation of advertising signs close to interstate and primary highways for purposes of safety and aesthetics. He said the state can be penalized, if it does not conform, by withholding of highway funds.


The rules require that a sign within 660 feet of the edge of the right of way may not exceed 1,200 square feet, Scher said, and must not be within 500 feet of another approved sign. "We contend these (regulations) were violated, " Scher said, "and he (Gerrity) did not get a permit."


Conway said he did not recall the exact size of the sign, but he said it did not exceed the 1200-square- foot limit.