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Anna Maria business owner: sign regs ‘not fair’

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

The main sign for the commercial building that houses five businesses at 314 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, advertises only the owner’s storage business. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

When Laura Shely relocated her Tide and Moon Jewelry store from Holmes Beach to Anna Maria in 2010, she said she was told by Anna Maria officials that she could have a sandwich board sign — a free-standing A-frame sign — in front of her shop at 314 Pine Ave.

Fast forward to 2014, when city commissioners adopted a sign ordinance that eliminated sandwich board signs but allows a business owner to apply for one via a special exception.

Shely believes she was doing “the right thing” when she paid her $200 application fee to the city to apply for a special exception.

Her application went before commissioners at their Aug. 28 meeting, and Shely watched as owners of two residential properties in the 700 block of North Shore Drive were granted special exceptions for A-frame signs.

But when Shely made her plea for the exception, commissioners denied the application in a 3-1 vote.

“It’s not fair,” Shely said.

“I’ve done everything right, while others on Pine Avenue are ignoring the ordinance,” she told commissioners after the motion by Commissioner Dale Woodland to approve her application failed for lack of a second.

Some businesses on Pine Avenue continue to display A-frame signs, including those at the Historic Green Village in the 500 block, where the signs were included in the original site plan for the stores.

Commissioner Carol Carter said she was concerned that a special exception for one Pine Avenue business would set a precedence.

Shely said that without a sign, her business suffers because pedestrians pass by the shop. The building is elevated above the sidewalk and the entry is obscured by a rail, she said, making it easy for pedestrians to miss it.

“All they see is the storage sign the owner has in front of the building by the sidewalk,” she told commissioners.

“I did $10 in business the other day. I’m sure it’s because people walked by and didn’t know I was there. And I can’t tell you how many people come in and say, ‘We didn’t know you were here.’”

Shely also said at least one person a day asks her about renting storage space. She said she’s talked with the building owner about adding her store’s name to the main sign, but has not received a positive response.

“I’m doing everything right. I took down my sandwich board when the new law went into effect. I paid my money for the exception, and this is how I get treated. And I don’t get the money back.”

Commission Chair Chuck Webb said the special exception process is supposed to “make everyone equitable,” but Shely disagreed.

“It’s not fair that people can’t see my store from the sidewalk unless an A-frame is there. I pay taxes in this city through sales tax, and I’ve been here four years. Now this. It’s just not fair.”

Webb told her to look at other provisions in the city codes to obtain an exception.

But, as she left the meeting she commented that there’s nothing more beyond what she’s already done.

Webb said denying someone a special exception was one of the toughest parts about being a commissioner.

A motion to deny Shely a special exception passed 3-1, with commissioners Carter, Webb and Yetter voting for the measure and Woodland voting no. Commissioner Doug Copeland was absent from the meeting.

After the vote, Shely said she did not know what she would do next.

“Right now, I’m a bit upset. I do know I won’t have very many customers this winter season without a sign telling people where I am,” she said.

In other commission business, Dye said he wanted to look at the city’s $640,000 contract with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services in the 2014-15 fiscal year before commissioners approve it.

A vote on the contract was continued to the commission’s Sept. 11 meeting.

The proposed MCSO contract is up $26,000 from the 2013-14 contract in part because MCSO deputies received a 3 percent increase in salary and an increase in benefits, city clerk Diane Percycoe said.

Commissioners approved an amendment to the parking ordinance that increases the fine from $30 to $35, and allows a citation to be issued every two hours. There is no limit on the number of citations that can be issued to a vehicle. The same amendment increased the fine for parking in a handicap-access space to $225.

Approval of an ordinance previously proposed by Copeland to establish “lending libraries” in the city was continued to Sept. 11 after Dye brought up the issue of city liability.

The proposed libraries would be on private property and commissioners were concerned about the number of locations.

Mayor SueLynn said there won’t be very many, and city planner Alan Garrett agreed. He said his research found no more than five such libraries in any city.

Yetter said the commission was “wasting too much time” on such a minor issue when there are other pressing problems in the city that need attention.

The commission approved adding $660 to the $99,000 in the proposed 2014-15 budget for liability insurance. The funding gives the city up to $1 million to pay any successful claims under the Bert Harris Property Rights Act.

The next commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

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