The Sarasota City Commission reversed a decision by the Sarasota Planning Board last week and approved an electronic sign near the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office on Ringling Boulevard. The Crime Stoppers sign will flash every two minutes with photos of wanted fugitives and other messages.
The Planning Board hesitated to approve the LED sign because it needed a variance to allow the sign to change more often than city code allows.
City code only allows a sign to change once every 24 hours.
The Planning Board voted 3-2 to deny the request, also citing distraction to motorists on Ringling Boulevard, which it felt would pose safety issues.
But Crime Stoppers appealed the Planning Board’s decision at the commission’s March 19 regular meeting and won approval for the sign.
Howard Fitz, secretary of Crime Stoppers of Sarasota, told the commission the sign met all requirements but one.
“We just need a two-minute turnover to put crimes up there and Amber alerts to let people know when children go missing,” Fitz said.
Fitz said the Planning Board was stuck on what he called “a misconception the sign would be blinking constantly.”
“That’s just not the case,” Fitz said. “A new criminal will be posted on the sign every two minutes faster than you can blink. It won’t be a distraction.”
The sign’s placement, at 2041 Ringling Blvd., is set back near the historic courthouse 100 inches away from the sidewalk.
“It’s not going to cause any distractions because cars are already going slow there because of the pedestrian walkway,” Fitz said. “Our purpose is solving crimes, and we would like your help with a sign there so criminals and crimes can be shown.”
The Sheriff’s Office is paying for the sign, and Crime Stoppers is paying for its installation.
Vice Mayor Terry Turner and Commissioner Willie Shaw did not support the sign, in part because they believed it created a precedence issue.
“Every adjustment politically creates a precedent,” Turner said. “We should be very careful with providing adjustments like a flashing sign.”
But Mayor Suzanne Atwell and Commissioner Shannon Snyder approved a motion by Commissioner Paul Caragiulo that the commission reverse the Planning Board’s decision and approve the sign after city staff concurred the sign met all requirements but one.
Caragiulo called the decision “an easy one.”
“This sign is going where there is a courthouse and a jail,” Snyder said. “ It will be run by the multimedia section of the Sheriff’s Office, and I’m very comfortable with its location.”
Joy McIntosh, a representative of Sarasota Court Watch, was pleased with the commission’s decision.
“This sign is an added tool that will work to support all our law enforcement in the area and allow the community to be more involved,” McIntosh said.