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Column

Be careful of 'fixing' sign rules past repair

By C.T. BOWEN
Published December 3, 2006


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Think of governing as a home repair.

At our former domicile, a screen door came off easily, but the replacement did not reattach as quickly. In fact, it didn't get affixed at all despite multiple attempts. It went back to Home Depot, and the front door went unadorned by a screen for the rest of the time we owned the house.

A supposed quick fix of the toilet in the guest bathroom required an eventual call to a plumber to finish what could not be done by the mechanically disinclined.

An attempt to clean a pool filter turned into an unexpected trip to the chlorine counter to replace the interior parts damaged trying to reassemble the blasted thing. The professional mechanical engineer on the block eventually volunteered to bail me out.

Around the house, the motto should be "Do no damage."

It is the same philosophy that should be adopted on the Pasco Commission dais as it begins amending its sign-control ordinance. One person's idea of a tweak could turn into someone else's notion of a major renovation.

The sign industry recently forwarded suggestions to the county on how to improve the 4-year-old ordinance that bans commercial pole signs and requires ground-hugging monument signs instead.

In the name of supposed flexibility, one industry idea is to remove all limitations on sign sizes. That's some tweak.

Being flexible doesn't mean bending over backward. Fortunately, both the staff and commissioners saw through the ploy.

You have to admire the gumption, though. Getting out the message while trying to sidestep the county's prohibition on so-called offsite signs has inspired variations of the old sandwich board men - guys standing in the right of way holding a sign advertising a business elsewhere.

Likewise, an illegal bus bench just popped up on U.S. 41 and Ehren Cutoff in Land O'Lakes promoting home sales in a new subdivision east of the site. Benches, and the accompanying advertising, are permitted only at designated bus stops, of which there are none in central Pasco.

Then there are the snipe signs that proliferate along rights of way and medians each weekend when county code enforcement offices are closed. Ditto the roadside signs promoting upcoming events. Even those Hudson Seafest advertisements that recently dotted west Pasco are illegal.

How out of control is outdoor advertising? Code enforcement assigns three officers, or a quarter of its staff, to the task of removing illegal signs. Despite the effort, County Administrator John Gallagher recently lamented the inability to stay ahead of the snipe signs.

Now, amid all the shenanigans, the sign industry says the county ordinance is too strict.

Frankly, I'd have a hard time accommodating an industry that spends so much time now trying to circumvent the existing rules.

But new Commissioner Mike Cox is amiable to some modification, though he didn't swallow all the industry suggestions.

"No sign, is a sign of no business," said Cox, a former small business owner.

Cox didn't find a lot of support, with Commissioner Ted Schrader voicing the most caution. If you start tweaking, Schrader said, you could end up breaking down the ordinance's true intent to reduce visual clutter and help beautify Pasco's roadsides.

Sometime next year, the commission will consider modifications to its ordinance, some of which are expected to be modeled after existing rules in other Florida cities.

Allowing some flexibility on the design of the monument signs is reasonable. Authorizing back-to-back signs permitted to sit in a V-shape at a 90-degree angle is not.

Banning the roadside sandwich board guys, as Cox suggested, most likely entangles First Amendment protections.

One idea worthy of pursuit is a campaign sign provision modeled after New Port Richey's, which requires candidates to post a bond before they can put up their signs. The candidates must sign an affidavit within three days after the election stating the signs have been removed in order to receive a refund.

It should bring a near immediate end to the campaign clutter that permeates Pasco's road sides every two years.

It helps solidify attempts at a more scenic Pasco and, most important, it follows the befuddled handyman's creed to do no damage.

[Last modified December 3, 2006, 09:23:27]


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