Code enforcers threaten fines for illegal store signs
By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN and JAMES THORNER
NEW PORT RICHEY -- They gathered early for instructions. Then they dispersed, armed with badges, clipboards and weighty written warnings.
Wednesday was the day of reckoning on the county's new sign ordinance. About 20 code enforcement officers fanned out to crack down on flouters: those still flying banners, balloons, festoons and other temporary signs. The deadline to comply was Monday. Next month, the office's "sign squad" will visit businesses to make sure they properly registered permanent or pole signs that get to stay. All future permanent signs must be monument signs, or hug the ground.
Warned Wednesday, businesses have a week to remove banners and flags or face a fine of $88 for each temporary sign.
What Bork and other officers found was a lot of confused and upset business owners.
"I never heard anything about it," said Arnold Calvo, son of the owner of JC Sod & Plants on U.S. 19 in Hudson, as Bork explained the problem on the fences.
"These banners are illegal," Bork told him. The ordinance was approved in December. Code enforcement officers said they sent notices to businesses before this week.
Calvo and his father, Jose, immediately began pulling down the banners, which read, "Sod, Pickup or Delivery."
"It's advertising," Jose Calvo said, taking down a flag that read, "Open."
"Out here, I don't have much visibility."
Bork gave them a written warning. It said that they had seven days to take down the signs or face a $704 citation. After a citation, a second offense doubles the fine. A third offense requires a court appearance.
"If he does it again, it will be a citable violation," Bork said, scribbling on his clipboard. "We're trying to deal with the kind of problem you're looking at on U.S. 19. Some places have 50 to 60 signs. It's clutter. It's terrible."
Not every visit went so smoothly.
Code enforcement Officer Ed Valido drove down U.S. 41, visiting the large majority of businesses that were out of compliance with the law.
He wrote up Jerry McRory Septic for a torn white banner fluttering in the breeze.
Heeding the sign that read "Bad dogs! Do not get out" and the three Doberman pinschers milling around, Valido handed the warning through his pickup truck window. Either the sign is gone in seven days, or it's an $88 fine.
Farther south on U.S. 41, Tim Chapple, manager at a motel and propane dealership, refused to show Valido his driver's license. The county asked for licenses to know what name to put on the warning paper.
"What you want my license for? I'm not giving you my license," Chapple said. "You'd think they'd have better ways to spend their time."
Polite but unhappy was Ed Marsicano, owner of All Tune and Lube service station, who was asked to pull down the banner attached to his front wall. Marsicano planned to complain to his county commissioner.
"I'm going to call Ms. (Pat) Mulieri and I will go round and round with her," he said. "She might not get my vote."
Others were stunned at how fast the fines add up.
At the BP Hudson on County Line Road at U.S. 19, Bork asked clerk Norma Tamburini to get the owner on the phone.
Bork counted all the cigarette signs stuck to poles in the parking lot and totaled the potential fine: $2,464.
Rick Boucher, vice president of Gulfview Mitsubishi on U.S. 19, received a visit from a code enforcement officer. A warning promised a $2,500 fine if he did not remove the balloons and "Used cars" banners in seven days.
"It's an eye-catcher," Boucher said of balloons and banners. "Not everybody watches television and reads the newspaper or listens to the radio. But they all drive someplace."
Bill Small, operating owner of Suncoast Ford on State Road 52 in Hudson, found out about the ordinance too late -- after he spent almost $16,000 on banner signs in November. He wished the county had communicated better with businesses. "It's going to take more to clean up our businesses along U.S. 19 than just taking banners down," Small said.
Others were less charitable.
Land O'Lakes business owner Tommy Fales complained the ordinance could cost him $700 just to apply for a permit to hang a new sign at his airboat business. There's surveying to pay for. And county fees. "I think it's a bunch of c---," Fales said after Valido left.
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