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Proposal would strengthen sign laws

The new ordinance would reduce the number, size, intrusiveness and ugliness of roadside business signs.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002

In the name of roadside beautification, Pasco County has sparred with owners of billboards, cell phone towers and bus stop benches.

Now comes Round 2: The county has completed a rough draft of an ordinance to reduce the number, size, intrusiveness and ugliness of business signs.

The ordinance, which could join tougher laws in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, could hit the desks of county commissioners in late April or early May. Approval could come as early as this summer.

The new rules were prompted in part by recent arguments between retailers and the county over the size of signs, specifically at a Wal-Mart Supercenter at Little Road and State Road 54 and a SuperTarget on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

SuperTarget's erection of a 40-foot sign atop a pillar angered residents of nearby neighborhoods such as Meadow Pointe.

Furthermore, County Administrator John Gallagher and County Attorney Robert Sumner openly worry about commercial clutter overtaking semirural Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel. They fear roads such as U.S. 41, SR 54 and Bruce B. Downs could replicate the garish model of U.S. 19.

"What we're proposing is a complete overhaul of the sign ordinance," said Pasco planner Rick Lambert, the ordinance's main author. "It's for new signs. Existing signs are grandfathered in."

Since the ordinance is subject to overhauls during the next couple of weeks as attorneys review its language, county officials were reluctant to share too many details.

But one debate will be over whether to require monument signs, the relatively small brick or concrete block signs mandated by beautification laws along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in northern Hillsborough.

Although it offers incentives for businesses to install monument signs, Pasco's ordinance doesn't ban the pole and pylon signs often criticized by keep-our-neighborhood-beautiful types.

Nevertheless, businesses wanting to raise signs on poles would have to make do with smaller signs farther back from the road, Lambert said.

"The ordinance is probably going to decrease the number of signs and make changes to the size of signs and require more aesthetically pleasing signs," he said.

In one area, Pasco's ordinance won't be as strict as the one passed in Pinellas in 1992.

Dispensing with grandfathering, Pinellas gave existing businesses seven years to comply with rules that included a ban on flashing, moving and cold-air inflatable signs and streamers, pennants and banners.

Many sources contributed to Pasco's ordinance, including an SR 54 corridor study completed last year that proposes shrinking signs in central Pasco.

The county's Citizens Ordinance Review Committee is scheduled to get the first crack at the proposed ordinance on May 15.

Once the sign ordinance is done, county planners will complete an "overlay district" ordinance that would tighten sign rules even further on select corridors throughout the county.

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