Attempts to make the town’s sign code easier to understand and more business-friendly is only causing more confusion and creating more questions.
The Planning and Zoning Board’s regular meeting crept past the lunch hour Tuesday, May 18, as board members attempted to sift through potential sign-code changes proposed by town staff.
But every time town planner Ric Hartman presented the board with a proposed change, it only led to more questions and more suggestions for more revisions.
Hartman began his presentation by suggesting language that would prohibit anyone from holding a sign or wearing clothing featuring advertising within 1,000 feet of the business or enterprise advertised.
“I don’t get it,” Planning Board member George Symanski Jr. said about the distance restriction. “Why can’t we just say no to these signs altogether?”
And board member Phillip Younger suggested eliminating any advertising on a shirt worn within the 1,000-foot range.
The comments prompted town attorney David Persson to interrupt.
“There is a freedom-of-speech issue that exists,” Persson said. “Speech is verbal and can be put on signs as well.”
Although Persson suggested the restriction might go too far, the board asked staff to eliminate allowing human signs.
Then a suggestion that would allow business signs on awnings set off another firestorm.
“We won’t allow billboards, but you can put signs on awnings?” Symanski said.
Planning Board Chairwoman B.J. Webb urged staff for awning-size restrictions and rules as to where the wording on the awnings could be placed.
The next debate occurred when Hartman suggested the code should reflect that any three flags can be displayed on a property as long as flags were 10 feet from rights of way.
“But what about the size of the flags?” Symasnki asked. “Could we end up with a flag that flies at the Sarasota Ford car dealership?”
Hartman told the board the town has no limits on the size of flags or the height of flagpoles.
The conversation ended with town staff being told to come back with information about the appropriate size of flagpoles.
But a political-sign mention quickly set off another long discussion.
Town code currently limits two political signs per property and staff suggested that one sign for every issue and every candidate be allowed.
“So someone could have 20 state-referenda signs, plus local-issue signs in their yard?” Webb asked.
Board member John Wild proposed allowing three signs to allow for a full slate of Town Commission candidates.
But Persson quickly nixed that concept, saying that if three candidates ran for four positions, there would be 12 signs needed.
The board agreed to allow four signs that could advertise a different candidate or issue on each side of the signs.
The conversation upset Symanski.
“I want to restrict the size of flags and got shot down,” Symanski said. “But now everyone wants to clamp down on free speech and elections.”
All of the discussions led Persson to suggest the board figure out what kind of town or city Longboat Key was trying to emulate.
“We can compare codes instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, which will be very expensive for staff time and attorney time,” Persson said.
The suggestion prompted Webb and the board to direct staff to look at Sea Island, Ga., as an example.
Persson warned the board that the town must try and figure out what kind of sign code it wants in the future.
“The directive years ago with this code was to become as restrictive as possible without blatantly going over the line,” Persson said. “The original product is worth 18 months of discussion.”
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].