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Date of Issue: May 14, 2008

Planning board OKs sign ordinance

The Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board sandwiched in a last-minute change in a revised sign ordinance before sending the proposed measure to city commissioners last week.

The change made by the board, which met May 8 at city hall, was to allow the previously prohibited - but sometimes seen - sandwich-board signs.

Such signs had been listed in the prohibited category, but the board agreed that businesses should be allowed to use them, provided they follow other requirements of the ordinance, specifically that they meet size requirements and they are not located in the rights of way.

The board decided, in a split vote, to include in the ordinance a requirement that sign owners pay a fee to renew their permit each year. Board members Bill Shearon, Joe Garbus, Rick Bisio and Art Dehardt voted for the requirement. Board member JoAnn Meilner voted against the provision.

The board also decided to keep a provision regarding electronic message signs. The ordinance refers to this type of sign as a “changeable copy sign.” The ordinance allows for manual “changeable copy signs,” but prohibits the placement of new electronic-message signs. Existing non-conforming electronic signs cannot be animated or change messages more than once an hour.

The owner of an electronic message sign, Jim Valente, asked the board to reconsider that provision.

Valente said he spent about $10,000 to erect a properly permitted electronic-message sign at 1501 Gulf Drive North in 2006. “A great amount of time and thought was put into the sign,” he said. Included in the consideration was the decision that the sign should show a new message about every five seconds.

“To deal with a 35-mph traffic flow, you need that interval,” Valente said.

The frequency of the changing messages, however, prompted complaints to city hall - and the resulting sign restrictions. City attorney Ralf Brookes said Valente can keep the sign, but not at the 5-second interval.

Dehardt suggested the board consider Valente’s request for some leniency. “This man spent a lot of money.… You can’t go against business all the time.”

Garbus said, “I think we should change it to less than one hour.”

But Shearon said relaxing the rule could turn Gulf Drive “into a strip.” “You might as well put up Mickey Mouse ears,” he said.

Chairman Bisio suggested the board let the city commission deal with the issue and the rest of the board agreed.

The revised sign ordinance is intended to provide content neutrality, establish time limits for approving or denying changes to signs and established new standards for signs in various zoning districts.

Many changes in the 31-page ordinance were made to delete references to the content of signs, as opposed to the size or location.

The proposed ordinance states, “Recent case law indicates that sign ordinances should be content neutral and that this content neutrality should also apply to exemptions contained in the sign ordinance; that sign ordinances should be limited to construction, design, size, duration and locations and should not address what words are placed on the sign. Further, because signs could raise First Amendment issues regarding freedom of speech, a time frame and procedure for appeals to the city commission should be established.”

In the nearly two-hour review of the document last week, city building official Steve Gilbert repeatedly said, “This has been deleted because of content.” Gone, for example, is the reference treating political signs differently than other non-permitted temporary yard signs.

In a unanimous vote, the board agreed to send the revised ordinance to the city commission for a first reading and a public hearing.

After the vote, concluding a lengthy review, Gilbert said, “Thank you, thank you.”

A date for the next board meeting was not set at The Islander’s deadline.