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Date of Issue: April 13, 2006

Island real estate agents protest sign ordinances

Island real estate agents and property owners gathered in force at the Holmes Beach City Hall April 6 to voice their displeasure with the recent enforcement of sign ordinances in both Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach.

Both cities last week began confiscating signs that were found to be either illegally placed - as in Holmes Beach - or that did not conform to the just-enacted Bradenton Beach law, which also requires a permit for a sign, among other issues brought up at the meeting.

Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore said the city is only enforcing the law which was passed in 1998. The code states that real estate signs may not be within the city right of way. She said code enforcement called real estate agents and companies to inform them the signs would be confiscated if not placed correctly.

But apparently not every real estate office got the message. A number of agents said they never got a letter from the city or a phone call.

Gary LaFlamme of RE/MAX Realty said that if his signs were taken for a code violation as the city claims,  then the city failed to use "due process" because a code violation requires official notice and a public hearing."The city could have just red-tagged the sign to alert us," he said.

LaFlamme added that when he went to the Holmes Beach public works department on April 7 to retrieve his signs, they had been broken and damaged. "They've treated our property like garbage."

He now has to pay $46 each to replace signs broken by the city, plus $40 to lease the signpost, which did not belong to him.

If that's not bad enough, Bradenton Beach charged LaFlamme $35 each to get his signs back, plus $25 for a permit for each sign.

A number of other real estate agents at the meeting told similar stories.

Now just hold on, said Whitmore.

The ordinance has been around since 1998, it just hasn't been enforced, she said. In August 2005, the city wrote every real estate company telling them that real estate signs in the rights of way must be removed.

"All real estate companies were told beforehand" what the city had planned, she said, and businesses were called two weeks ago.

Whitmore said she is charged with enforcing the city codes and upholding the sign ordinance has been an "overwhelming problem."

Remember, the sign ordinance was only established after citizen complaints, she added.

If the real estate agents want change, they should come to the city commission and present their suggestions for how to make the ordinance fair and equitable.

But what's legal in Holmes Beach for a sign may be illegal in Bradenton Beach.

Many agents such as Barry Gould agreed there was a need for "fairness and consistency" among the sign ordinances of all three Island cities.

Anna Maria is currently planning a new sign ordinance, while any change to the sign laws in Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach would require an amendment to the ordinance.

Then let's do it, said Don Schroder, Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president, RE/MAX real estate agent and moderator of the meeting.

Schroder claimed he never got notification that Bradenton Beach would confiscate signs starting April 3. He also had an issue with someone coming onto private property to take a sign and also that part of the city code that says a real estate sign must be 5 feet from the property line.

While many who attended the meeting clamored for a uniform sign ordinance, Ken Rickett of A Paradise Realty pointed out the difficulty of getting all three Island cities to agree on anything, much less a common sign ordinance.

It's going to be a challenge, he said.

Maybe, Schroder agreed, but we have to try.

A committee was formed that will address the various issues raised by both the Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach ordinances and come up with a "uniform" proposal for both cities and Anna Maria.

What's needed, said Schroder, is uniformity on the size, pole height, number of signs per property, color, riders attached to the signs, language and on the matter of setbacks, among a host of other issues.

Good luck, said Whitmore. "If they can get an Islandwide ordinance, I have no problem with that, but I can't speak for the city commission," she said.

Holmes Beach City Commissioner David Zaccagnino noted that many residents not in the industry have complained about the proliferation of signs in the city.

He noted one property for sale had 14 signs on it.

At the same time, he said, there's a need for a "happy medium" and he believes the city commission could "work with the committee" on its proposed ordinance.

Schroder said once the committee has established a proposal, it would present those recommendations to the three cities' commissions.

That's likely easier to do in Anna Maria, where the ordinance has not yet been passed.

Commission Chairperson John Quam, who was at the April 6 meeting, said any suggested changes should be brought to the commission as soon as possible for discussion.


Accommodation owners fight high taxes

At the April 6 meeting on signage, attorney Chuck Webb took time out to tell the audience that he is currently representing several parties on the Island with a case against the Manatee County Property Appraiser's Office for the method it uses to determine assessed value for taxation.

Under Florida law, said Webb, the property appraiser can use either the cost, sales or income method to determine value.

On Anna Maria Island, the PAO has been using the sales method because it compares a motel or accommodation to the sale of a condominium. That method gives a higher value to the motel and thus the property pays higher taxes.

"But the state says the property appraiser is supposed to use his expertise" to determine the best and fairest method of value.

"We have found that the PAO is not even using the income approach," he said. His clients have claimed that PAO has never asked them for income figures.

"They are just ignoring the income approach," and going strictly with the sales method because it produces a higher property value.

If the PAO used income to determine property value, "You would get much lower taxes," he asserted.