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Date of Issue: April 20, 2006

Commission compromise derails sign confrontation

Sign of untroubled times
Anna Maria City Planner Alan Garrett showed the city commission the difference between a 3-square-foot sign and a 4-square-foot sign at the April 13 commission meeting. Commissioners opted for the larger sign. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

An expected showdown between local real estate agents and the Anna Maria City Commission over its proposed sign ordinance failed to materialize at the April 13 commission meeting when commissioners agreed to a number of proposals in the ordinance favorable to the industry.

Real estate agents had flooded the commission chambers in anticipation of a battle over the proposed ordinance after similar sign ordinances in Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach had produced an industry outcry.

But the commission moved quickly to resolve a number of serious issues in the Anna Maria ordinance regarding residential signs, agreed to a maximum sign of 4 square feet for signs on a residential property, not restricting the number of word lines in the sign, eliminating restrictions on the number of colors for the signs and allowing either a metal frame or a wooden post to support a sign on the property.

Mayor SueLynn pointed out that a sign hung on a wooden post would probably need a permit from the building department.

The commission also agreed that residential signs could have an information box and one "add-on," or rider attached, and allowed a residence to have a sign naming the house attached to the dwelling, in addition to the residential sign on the property. It also allowed signs advertising seasonal or weekly rental to remain on a property, even when the structure is in use.

Commissioners delayed a decision on temporary off-site signs such as "garage sale" until its May worksession, when it will also address commercial signs in the proposed ordinance.

The measures brought approval from the real estate professionals in attendance.

Island real estate agent Kevin C. Van Ostenbridge, speaking for Island real estate agents, had brought a number of proposals to the commission, some of which differed from those of the commission, but was pleased by the commission’s compromise effort.

He noted that the proliferation of signs has been generated by the market.

But not everyone was happy with the proposed sign ordinance. Several local residents said the city is acting like it owes the industry. The city should start with eliminating all signs and work its way up from there, they said.

While that brought applause from the audience, the commission rejected that notion and scheduled further discussion of the ordinance for its May 11 worksession.

Attorney Michael Connolly of Sarasota, acting as city attorney after Jim Dye recused himself because he is an Anna Maria rental property owner, said the city had to be very careful not to make the ordinance "content based."

In other words, it should not be directed specifically toward the real estate industry.

He also noted that the Florida Supreme Court recently ruled against a Neptune Beach sign ordinance, saying that "visual clutter" of real estate signs was not a compelling reason for the city to restrict signs because that ordinance was "content based."

Cities do, however, have some control over signs, he said, and can regulate size and location, among other issues.

In other business, the commission also agreed to vote on a proposed amendment to the building setback ordinance at its May 25 meeting that would allow mechanical equipment, such as pool heaters, to encroach up to 36 inches in the side setback.

The request was brought by Max Powers on behalf of the pool industry. Powers had previously pointed out that the 2003 setback ordinance had inadvertently meant that most pool equipment had to be placed in the backyard, a hardship for some pool owners.

Commissioners also agreed that the amendment should allow the equipment to be as high as 36 inches, but must be "soundproofed" to eliminate as much noise as possible from reaching adjoining households.

SueLynn, however, said the commission is setting a "dangerous precedent" because the amendment is geared to a specific industry.

Commissioner Duke Miller agreed, saying the commission was entering "dangerous territory" with the amendment, but agreed to have the commission formally vote on the issue.

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