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Signs point to lack of resolve

By LISA BUIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 30, 2002


COMMENTARY

MEADOW POINTE -- Pasco County Commissioner Pat Mulieri said it best.

"We're not going to get New Tampa, we're going to get Old Pasco," she predicted a couple of weeks ago after questioning why county staffers had made no progress in putting a halt to big, tacky business signs.

She's right.

Nobody knows this better than residents in communities along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in Wesley Chapel. They already are assaulted by a 40-foot-tall SuperTarget bull's-eye as they leave home each day. Target representatives behaved like bullies by slapping up the pole sign and threatening to leave it unless residents dropped opposition to the store's request to more than double the size of its 300-square-foot wall signs.

Such tactics might have worked if Target offered to look more like the Wal-Mart Supercenter about a mile down the road in progressive New Tampa.

The compromise for the bigger wall signs wasn't a classy ground-hugging masonry sign like the one gracing Wal-Mart. No, Target insisted on a masonry sign that was 15 feet tall.

In the end, residents decided they were being blackmailed and dug in on their opposition to the bigger wall signs. Hearing the outcry, county officials turned down the store's wall sign request. The Target representative had this parting shot: "They're going to have to live for the next 40 years with the sign they don't want."

So the bright red bull's-eye is here to stay, with residents wishing they could use it as a dart board.

You would think that such a fiasco would prod county officials, who talked about cracking down on big, gaudy signs for more than six months, to get moving on some new rules before it happened again.

But alas, this is government.

For months, no one said a word. It wasn't until Mulieri and St. Petersburg Times reporter James Thorner started asking questions that the issue made it back to the forefront.

Then we find out that the ordinance was left to languish, even though staffers described it as "95 percent complete" when its writer, Rick Lambert, resigned in May.

At Mulieri's urging, county officials brought up the matter again, but this time they said it needed lawyering to head off potential legal challenges. The commission then voted to spend $28,000 on an attorney to review it.

Any time lawyers enter the picture, you can be assured that an already slow process will practically come to a standstill. Approval is sure to be months away.

The county's need to be cautious is understandable, especially given the recent collapse of the adult establishment ordinance. But it's no excuse for letting down the people of Wesley Chapel.

This issue should have been settled more than a year ago, when Scenic Pasco brought up the need for rules preventing another mess of billboards and huge signs on U.S. 19.

Dennis Smith, who sits on the Meadow Pointe Community Council, has dogged officials on the matter since at least last year. A retiree, he's the type of gadfly that government types listen to politely but secretly wish he would find a good bingo game and disappear.

Fortunately for younger families, whose time is spent working to put food on the table, Smith is a good watchdog.

He plans to stop waiting on government and lobby developers instead, appealing to their sense of neighborliness in hopes they'll voluntarily erect shorter monument signs.

Good luck.

"I'd be sorry if they lobbied us," Robert Moody, Crescent Resources Inc.'s director of retail development in Florida told reporter Thorner last week.

The Shoppes of New Tampa already has plans to put in two 30-foot-tall brick signs similar to some on U.S. 19. The signs will consist of an arch-like base of two-colored brick topped by lighted aluminum business logos.

Developers could be better neighbors, but the county is ultimately to blame for poor planning. Business will always do whatever local laws allow.

Maybe a sign ordinance won't come too late for State Road 56 and the newly widened State Road 54, which are about to erupt with development. But Bruce B. Downs Boulevard has been sacrificed.

If the area near where I live in Meadow Pointe ends up ruined, don't be surprised if you see me house hunting in Hunter's Green.

So what if a man suspected of Internet prostitution peddling lives there? At least he hasn't put up pylon signs.

-- Lisa Buie is the editor of the central/east edition of the Pasco Times. You can reach her at (813) 909-4604 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604. Her e-mail address is buie@sptimes.com.

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