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Opinion
Business Observer Friday, Sep. 19, 2003 15 years ago

19 Re: Proposed Amendments to the Sarasota Sign Ordinance in the ZOU

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Letter to the Editor: By Bob WaechterR&J Waechter Commercial ManagementSarasota

Dear Commissioners:

I know you are tired through and through, as are we all, of this entire process, and I will be as brief as possible while making a few points about the changes proposed for "ground" signs. The goals of the Zoning Ordinance Update are admirable and, while not easy, the process actually seems to be working quite well.

Staff and community input has provided you an accurate picture of goals and repercussions, with some unintended consequences illuminated by those closest to the particular issue under discussion. You have responded with concern and insight, not pleasing all, but really upsetting surprisingly few. I am confident you won't yield to the temptation to hurry this process to a conclusion at the expense of overlooking details or trampling the rights of those whose interests remain to be addressed.

I attended the Aug. 20 sign workshop and was pleased that there was a decent turnout. However, I expect the room would have been far too small had all of those whose signs will be made non-conforming by the proposals presented to us that evening been directly informed of the impacts to their property.

I was struck, as I drove home from the meeting, that virtually every existing ground sign in Sarasota County would be rendered nonconforming by one or another of the changes proposed. Letter size, lighting, multi-tenant signs, height, area, etc. Very few, if any, conform to all of the proposals put forth. Interestingly, gas station signs, with the exception of height, seem to come closest. The most recently constructed monument signs, exactly what you say you are looking for, won't make the cut. Lettering too small, illumination reversed or various other reasons.

I don't believe this is your intent and I can't help but wonder if anyone has attached a dollar value to what is being proposed. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in sign replacement cost will be necessitated over the next decade if this ordinance is enacted as proposed. Even if the changes suggested at the workshop are incorporated, the results will be the same.

For example: A staff proposal to reduce the (initially proposed) minimum letter size from nine inches to eight inches is simply in response to a comment from a sign industry representative that standard letters jump from eight inches to 10 inches, and not a concession that dictating a merchant's minimum lettering size may not be a proper function of government.

Please take a moment to read the following:

Proposal: Sec 7.4.5, g (Page 14, Aug 20, workshop) Dictate a minimum letter size of nine inches for all signage on 45 mph roadways and seven inches for under 45 mph.

Suggestion: Do not codify a minimum letter size, it is not your concern. To arbitrarily determine that a specific minimum letter size must be on all signs runs counter to industrywide experience. For example: The great majority of informational road signs, those installed by city, county and state governments are not nine inches, or even eigtht inches.

Street signs, intersection identifiers (those suspended in the center of major intersections), traffic control signs are all about six inches, or smaller, and are easily readable. Commercial Realtors, a group very experienced in getting their message out, most commonly use six-inch lettering for their phone numbers - because they are readable. Drive around and look at all the signs that are not nine, or even eight, inches. Can you read them? Of course you can.

Where is the problem? Leave this to the market to determine.

Proposal: Sec 7.4.7.g. 2., i and ii: Prohibit lighted signs with opaque lettering. Suggestion: Do not eliminate backlit signage across the board, narrow the focus. Consider that many currently permitted monument signs are very tastefully designed and built (for example, look at new office, professional and institutional developments). Some would seem to epitomize exactly what you are attempting to accomplish with the revisions to this section of the ordinance. The proposed change will lump these more desirable signs in with those actually targeted. You will, in effect, be "throwing out the baby with the bathwater," and causing unnecessary economic hardship for many property owners. What actually is so bad about back lit signs? With the proposed reduced areas and new height limitations, isn't this problem already adequately mitigated?

Proposal: Sec. 7.4.1 b.2.i : Requires changing an entire sign if one tenant changes in a multi-tenant sign containing less that 10 tenants.

Suggestion: Recognize (for the purposes of the above section) that multi-tenant signs are those signs containing more than one tenant. The proposal penalizes those least prepared to absorb the cost by defining multi-tenant, as 10 or more. Many small plazas and industrial developments have multiple, but less than 10, tenants. To necessitate that these owners change their entire sign simply as the result of one tenant change totally negates any amortization provisions you may settle on. This is simply unfair.

Proposal: Sec 7.4.9 f. Allow a 100-square-foot maximum area for multi-tenant retail signs with 10 or more tenants.

Suggestion: Remove the word "retail" from the description. Why allow retail a 100-square-foot area and not industrial, or OPI? The need for an identifier sign is every bit as great in these locations. Consider an industrial park receiving deliveries from semi-trucks. The identifier sign at the entrance prevents unnecessary turnarounds in constricted areas, and the backing of trucks into thoroughfares. The same is true for office parks. Don't penalize those best positioned to cut down on the number of signs by forcing them to have individual signs along the roadway frontage. Encourage multi-tenant signs.

In conclusion, I offer up the following challenge. After reading through the proposed ordinance, in your travels around the county, try and find a ground sign that will conform in every regard, to the proposals being put forth for your consideration. Note especially: Height: Less than 15 feet on 45 mph road, less 12 feet under 45 mph, poles four feet or less. Lettering size: All lettering nine inches, or greater (proposed at workshop to change to eight inches), on roads of 45 mph plus, and seven inches, or greater, on roads 35 mph to 45 mph. Illumination: No backlit signs unless letters only are illuminated or with contrasting darker background colors (gas station signs) Multi-tenant signs: Any multi-tenant sign with less than 10 tenants will be removed with the first tenant change. (please keep in mind the letter size requirements on these signs) Will existing number of tenants, on a multi-tenant sign, even fit onto a sign designed under the new standards?

I believe you will find that while there are some very desirable signs, there are few, if any, that will meet the provisions of what is being proposed. Then ask yourselves what is this going to cost the community and is it worth it?

This area of the ZOU needs more work and a fairer balance of the intended goals and the rights of your commercial citizens. And please remember, while the sign industry is one expert in this area, they are also a beneficiary. The merchant is the other expert, and he will be the one asked to pay the bill.

Bob Waechter

R&J Waechter Commercial Management

Sarasota

NOTE: There will be a public hearing on the zoning ordinance from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 30 in the Sarasota commission boardroom 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota.

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