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City seeks smaller, lower signs

Proposed rules would give companies seven years to remove old signs.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published January 9, 2007


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LARGO - The visual clutter on city roadways didn't sprout up overnight.

Over the years, some Largo merchants put up mammoth signs on tall poles to help customers find them. Other businesses installed even bigger signs to avoid getting lost in the mix.

Now, city leaders say, the trend needs to stop.

"Otherwise we'll just have a mishmash of signs," said City Commissioner Gay Gentry.

At a community work session tonight, city leaders will discuss taking the more restrictive guidelines that already apply to the city's downtown redevelopment district and apply them citywide. Tall signs on poles would be out; more low-profile "monument signs" would be in.

The changes also would streamline the rules in the Clearwater-Largo Road and West Bay Drive areas, which already have strict sign codes because they're in redevelopment districts.

"The city is really trying to do the right thing, and I support what they're trying to do," said resident John Atanasio, who heads a company that manages several retail centers in Pinellas.

Ron Bortolini, owner of Durable Coatings on Clearwater-Largo Road, has a low-profile sign that would comply with the proposed citywide rules. Still, he said the city wants to primp storefronts at the expense of businesses.

"Government has to wise up to the fact that we are not residential buildings and should not looked like residential buildings," Bortolini said. "They're going to beautify us to the point where we're not even going to have the image of a business."

For the most part, the proposed rules would eliminate signs on tall poles and allow monument signs that hug the ground. As proposed, monument signs would have a base that's no taller than 3 feet and a total height that does not exceed 6 feet.

Businesses with nonconforming signs would have seven years to take them down once the rules take effect.

Atanasio said the proposed height is fine because it's eye-level for most motorists.

But Bortolini said smaller signs can make it difficult for customers to find businesses and may even cause accidents because motorists may take their attention off the road to see them.

Other proposed citywide changes would require address numbers on all monument signs.

Outside the redevelopment districts, new rules would allow monument signs up to 120 square feet and wall signs up to 150 square feet depending on how much property fronts the rights of way.

The revisions also would ease rules on schools and hospitals, allowing signs up to 100 square feet and 8 feet high. Currently, institutional signs are regulated by stricter residential rules.

Inside the redevelopment district, the rules would create uniform height and size requirements for all sign types, allowing monument signs ranging from 25 to 60 square feet and wall signs ranging from 50 to 100 square feet.

With the new sign rules, officials also plan to update landscaping codes.

Current requirements sometimes create a wall of trees and shrubs that block signs and obscure the fronts of buildings.

Proposed rules would emphasize taller trees and reduce the number of required trees and shrubs.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 727 445-4155.

Speak out

The city is holding a community work session on proposed sign rules at 6 p.m. today in the Jenkins Room of the Largo Public Library, 120 Central Park Drive. City commissioners will also discuss recreation trends, downtown redevelopment and capital improvement projects.

[Last modified January 9, 2007, 07:22:14]


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