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Sign law tops list of issues in county

A new year means a new round of lobbying to revise the Pasco law, just as enforcement efforts were tightening.

Published February 15, 2004

Small businesses working to find their place amid Pasco's development boom in 2004 say they will continue to petition and protest a county sign ordinance they say stifles their ability to compete.

Last year county officials began enforcing a 2002 ban on certain signs in an effort to clear up visual clutter along Pasco roadways. The ordinance regulates the use of unauthorized banners, balloons, festoons and other signs.

But opponents of the rule say it is flawed and not uniformly applied. This year they will be working with industry groups such as the International Sign Association in an effort to convince elected officials to reconsider the ordinance.

"It's not over," said Parnell Sitton, owner of Admiral Printing and leader of a group of businesses fighting the ordinance.

"When a small business person cannot promote or advertise their products there is only one place for them to go: downhill," he said.

In a sweep last March county code enforcement staff spotted 500 to 600 violations of the ordinance but gave out warnings rather than fines.

About six months ago, code enforcement officers formed a three-person "sign squad" and began their official enforcement. No numbers were available regarding the number of citations and fine amounts.

"We typically don't differentiate between the ordinances," said Joe Gross, assistant zoning and code compliance administrator for Pasco County.

But "I think it's still fair to say we're getting a good deal of voluntary compliance," he said.

County Commissioner Peter Altman said it is unlikely elected leaders will reconsider the rule.

"This has been thorough discussion," he said."Most of what we heard was "Get rid of it,' " he said of the sign clutter.

But Altman said he has seen improvements since enforcement began last year and called all the past signs an "assault on drivers."

Business owners still can put up certain signs on a limited basis, he said, adding "I'm just not so sure that the arguments that have been made hold a lot of water."

Sitton said officials must revisit the ordinance, which allows real estate signs, campaign signs and signs that were grandfathered in under the ordinance to remain.

Meanwhile,"I've got antique shops, a business that sells phones, car dealerships, sign companies, a business that sells boats" that are hurting, Sitton said.

And as far as clearing up clutter and beautifying Pasco roadways, "U.S. 19 is a commercial highway," he said, "it's not a scenic route."

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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