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Date of Issue: April 19, 2007

HB officials return to sign ordinance

Holmes Beach city commissioners resumed an effort to map out a plan for regulating signage while steering clear of threatening First Amendment rights.

The commission discussed a draft sign ordinance during a work session April 10. Another work session is planned for April 24, with a possible vote on the measure on May 8.

The commission also took up proposed mooring and dock regulations last week and will likely revisit a draft ordinance on April 24.

The draft sign ordinance incorporates changes recommended by the city planning commission and alterations suggested by the city attorney, who wants the commission to avoid restricting the content of signs.

The stated purpose of the proposed ordinance is "to create a comprehensive and balanced system of sign control that accommodates both the need for a well-maintained, safe and attractive community, and the need for effective business identification, advertising and communication."

The measure is intended to protect against "unlimited proliferation in number and location of off-site and on-site signs," placement of "over-sized, unsightly, animated, flashing and other aesthetically unpleasant and unsafe signs" and commercial signs cluttering residential neighborhoods.

The proposed changes to the regulations are numerous and involve revised definitions, added statements and modifications in the size, number and location of signs.

For example, the proposed ordinance contains a definition for "flag" and a limit on the number allowed on a single parcel.

Commissioners dwelled on the provision because it initially provided for one flag and commissioners felt the number was too low.

"That to me is limiting," said Commissioner Pat Morton. "I fly two flags - the American flag and the POW flag."

"During the holidays, I have two flags on my house," said Mayor Rich Bohnenberger.

Commissioners agreed to change the number of flags that can be placed without a permit to three.

Bill Brisson, the city’s planning consultant, said the definition for a "flag" - "secured on one side, usually on a flag pole, and usually at two points leaving the remainder of the cloth or material hanging limply or drooping" - differentiates the item from a "banner," which is prohibited unless permitted for a temporary event. The intent of the definitions is to make sure flags aren’t used as signs.

The measure states that generally signs must be located on private property no closer than 10 feet from the edge of the roadway or 1 foot from the edge of a sidewalk. The current rule is not less than 5 feet from the property line.

Real estate signs, the ordinance makes clear, are temporary. Under the proposed law, the following real estate signs would be permitted:

  • One vacation rental sign, not exceeding 18 inches in any dimension, located on the principle structure.
  • No more than two real estate signs offering for sale, lease or rent the property on which the sign is placed.
  • A real estate sign can not exceed 6 square feet or include more than two attachments.
  • No more than one sign in a single yard area of a parcel. For example, a corner property could have a sign in the front yard as well as the side yard and a waterfront property could have a sign in the front yard and on the waterfront.

The number of signs for a garage/yard sale or an open house would be limited to three - two directional signs and one on the property.

"Signs that are removed by the city may be held by the city for evidence of violation ... or may be released back to the owner upon the payment of a fine in the amount of $25," the proposed ordinance states.

The ordinance also deals with signs in the event of an approaching storm, stating that freestanding, pendant or other signs that "swing in the breeze" must be removed within six hours of the issuance of a tropical storm or hurricane warning.

Brisson and city attorney Patricia Petruff said the draft ordinance contained some changes to protect the regulations from a constitutional attack.

In Florida, the most prominent case involves Solantic LLC and the city of Neptune Beach and dates to August 2003.

Solantic charged that the city’s sign ordinance was vague and infringed on free speech guarantees in the Constitution. The dispute centered on a $40,000 electronic sign that Solantic erected outside an urgent care center. The city’s code enforcement board ruled that the sign was in violation because the message changed more than once a day.

"That case," Petruff said, "is still bumping its way through the system."