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Date of Issue: July 19, 2007

Holmes Beach aims for 'content neutral' sign rules

Holmes Beach city officials agreed last week that the mural for the new Egrets' Landing in their city is beautiful - and that a section of it also should count as a sign. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Holmes Beach city commissioners agreed last week that they want their planning consultant to go as far as possible in drafting a “content neutral” sign ordinance.

The goal is to steer clear of any legal trouble over the planned new regulations and to avoid any encroachment on constitutional rights.

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.

But city planning consultant Bill Brisson left last week’s city commission meeting with directions to rework the ordinance to avoid limiting content.

For example, commissioners discussed construction sites, where it is a tradition for developers and contractors to post signs advertising their work. Commissioners endorsed a provision in the ordinance allowing for one sign to go up at a construction site, but they instructed Brisson not to detail what can be put on the sign. So a sign likely will be used to promote work at the site, but could contain any message.

Commissioners last week also discussed banner signs, which in general are prohibited under the ordinance. An exception would be made for events, such as the opening or relocating of a business or presentation of a community activity.

Brisson was asked by commissioners to strike from the draft measure language referring to the type of an event or type of event sponsors - “temporary events of civic, educational or religious organizations” will be eliminated and made non-specific.

“We’ll just say we allow banner signs for events and put a time limit on them,” Brisson said.

Commissioners also discussed how to approach murals in the sign ordinance.

The issue came up as city officials took notice of a mural on the side of the new Egrets’ Landing at 5602 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach.

“I think the mural is gorgeous,” Commission Chair Sandy Haas-Martens said.

But, she added, the mural, with the words “Egrets’ Landing,” serves as a super-size ad for the business.

Brisson suggested incorporating into the ordinance a statement that logos, text, numbers or other symbols in murals that are related to a business be considered signage. He said the square footage should be calculated into the total allowable space allowed for commercial, permitted “Class A” signage at a property. The draft regulations state that “the total square footage of any combination of signs permitted” in commercial districts “shall not exceed 280 square feet in the area.”

Under that provision, the Egrets’ Landing mural sign is allowed, plus the business has additional square feet of signage space to use.

Haas-Martens welcomed the recommendation, as did other commissioners. “We’re not trying to make it hard for people,” she said. “Just clear.”