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Date of Issue: March 30, 2006

Sign of Anna Maria times: Property owner claims commission infringing on rights

This sort of real estate sign would be prohibited by the proposed ordinance to regulate signs in Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

Meanwhile, signs proliferate in Holmes Beach.

Plans by the Anna Maria City Commission to pass a new sign ordinance at its March 23 meeting to regulate the size and number of signs on commercial and residential property were curtailed after City Attorney Jim Dye recused himself from the discussion and some members of the public and Island real estate industry blasted the commission for even considering the issue.

Limiting the size and number of signs for a real estate agent or a business is "hurting capitalism," said Holmes Beach resident John Cagnina, who owns property in Anna Maria.

"The City of Anna Maria seems like it always wants to infringe on the rights of the businessman," he alleged. "Do you feel morally comfortable" with this action?, he asked.

Just a minute, said Commissioner Duke Miller. The business community came to the city and asked for new regulation of signs. "It wasn't our idea," he responded.

Cagnina admitted he had not been at any of the initial meetings on the issue.

As if public outrage at the ordinance wasn't enough of a "sign of troubled signs," Dye took himself out of the advice business on this ordinance because he owns rental property in Anna Maria.

"There may be a perception," he said, if he gave the city an opinion. "So I should just stay away" from the ordinance.

The commission agreed to retain Sarasota attorney Mike Connolly for advice on the sign ordinance, which was prepared by City Planner Alan Garrett.

And make no mistake, Garrett told the commission,

sign ordinances are probably the "most-challenged" ordinances in the nation. At issue is the freedom of speech guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

Indeed, under the proposed ordinance, a residence could only have one sign on the property with a maximum of three square feet and a limited number of words.

So, asked Commissioner Linda Cramer, if a residence already has a sign outside the premises with a name like "Casa de Allan," the owners would be precluded from putting up a "for rent" or "for sale" sign under the ordinance?

Correct, replied Garrett, who said he modeled the ordinance after a similar law on Longboat Key.

But it's up to the commission if it wants to allow any exceptions or modify the ordinance, he said.

Real estate agents also complained that the three- square-foot limit was too small and the ordinance did not consider canalfront property.

Realtor Don Schroder said a "for sale" sign is often placed along the waterway of a waterfront property because many potential buyers "cruise" the Island's canals looking at houses for sale.

Resident Bob Barlow said that while he was pleased the city was trying to "clean up the real estate sign issue," the proposed ordinance appears "far too restrictive on homeowners." He suggested the commission consult real estate agents on how a sign ordinance could be written to everyone's satisfaction and he also questioned how the ordinance would be enforced.

Commission Chairperson John Quam agreed to discuss the ordinance further and will place the issue on the commission's April 13 workshop agenda. He also invited members of the city's real estate and business community to the workshop for input.

In other business, the commission agreed that Amador Salinas and his family got the short end of the stick when the city commission of June 24, 1997, passed a motion allowing for a zoning change from commercial to residential for his vacant property at 9907 Gulf Drive.

Unfortunately, when Salinas went to build his house last year, he was told by Building Official Kevin Donohue that the property is zoned commercial and he could not issue a residential building permit.

Seems the commission of 1997 did everything right, but forgot to pass an accompanying ordinance for the zoning change.

Salinas said he was "frustrated" because the property had been split and another family had been allowed to build a house several years ago, but now he was being denied that right. That house was constructed before Donohue became the building official.

While Salinas asked the commission to pass a motion for his building permit, Dye told commissioners that the legal way to clear the situation was to enact a zoning change ordinance. That, however, will require Salinas to go before the planning and zoning board for a public hearing, then to the city commission for public hearings.

In addition, said Dye, as a legal matter, the city also has to pass a small change amendment to its comprehensive plan and go through that process.

The two procedures could go through the process "side by side," but the amendment would then have to go to the Florida Department of Community Affairs and there is a 30-day waiting period for it to become effective.

He estimated it would take two months at the city level to get the changes effected, providing everything went smoothly.

Dye did say Salinas might want to submit his plans to the building official for review and be ready to go if everything is passed.

Former planning and zoning board chairman Tom Turner, however, said that when he was on the board several years ago, the commission granted building permits to several people who wanted to build a residence in a commercial district. He suggested that procedure could be done immediately to help Salinas, but the commission did not consider that in its discussions.

Miller told Salinas that there's "not a soul in this room who doesn't want you to have a house, but we need to hear the most expeditious way. That's what we're trying to do."

Mayor SueLynn said she would help Salinas fill out the proper request for a zoning change and get the accompanying small plan amendment to the comp plan from Dye to go to the P&Z board at the same time.

The commission also turned down a request from the mayor to discuss a possible purchase of 425 Pine Ave. for use as a maintenance storage shed for the public works department. The property was purchased several months ago by P&Z board member Randall Stover for $550,000. Stover had offered it to the city for $875,000.