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Longboat Key Wednesday, May 20, 2009 11 years ago

Town sets sight on signs

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

There are 24 road signs in the half-mile section of Gulf of Mexico Drive between the mobile-home parks and Royal Road.

That’s one sign every 100 feet, and that’s 24 signs too many for Planning and Zoning Board member Walter Hackett.

At recent planning board sign code public hearings, Hackett released his own statistics, counting 405 state road signs along 9.7 miles of Gulf of Mexico Drive.

To make his point that the signs are overkill, Hackett counted 122 signs that reference bicycles, 87 Sarasota County Area Transit trolley stop signs and many “no parking in the right of way” signs.

Hackett’s memo struck a nerve, prompting the planning board to invite Florida Department of Transportation officials to its Tuesday, May 12 sign code public hearing.

Florida Department of Transportation District Traffic Operations Engineer L.K. Nandam told the planning board that so many signs exist on Gulf of Mexico Drive for a reason.

“We are required to install bike signs to advise motorists of the bike lanes on your road,” said Nandam, who also explained that the counties don’t need state permission to place bus-stop signs in the right of way.

But former planning board Chairman David Brenner wasn’t buying it.

“We have an awful lot of signage out there,” Brenner said. “Is there any flexibility about how many of those signs are required?”

Temple Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Katz also chimed in, urging the town to fight the state on its signage claim.

“A sign is a permanent presence that violates sight lines,” Katz said. “Signs mar our beautiful view, and we shouldn’t accept what the state is telling us.”

Assistant District Traffic Operations Engineer Keith Slater tried to deflect the criticism by explaining that the bicycle signs are frequent because of the amount of driveways on Gulf of Mexico Drive and the number of out-of-town visitors the island gets on an annual basis.

But in that same breath, Slater also admitted that his department “does have some leniency in backing off.”

The statement was all the planning board needed to request the department and town work together to take out some of the signs.

“Two-hundred signs on each side of this road is too much,” Hackett said.

Nandam said that road projects such as the Gulf of Mexico Drive repaving project provides his department with the perfect opportunity to revisit the number of signs along the road.

“Some signs will be removed because they don’t meet our standards,” Nandam said. “And when we repave the Sarasota side of the road next year, we will perform the same evaluation.”

Brenner also asked state officials to provide the town with a map that defines the Gulf of Mexico Drive right of way, which will be helpful for residents and real-estate-agents when deciding where exactly they can place signs on their property.

Hackett said he was happy to discover that the state is willing to revisit what he and others perceive as excessive signage.

“We do the best we can to make this island as appealing as possible,” Hackett said. “And the state throws up a bunch of signs whenever it wants that detract from the aesthetics of this island.”

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