New rules limit where sandwich boards go

Starting in January, the signs must be on or very close to a business owner's property.

By EILEEN SCHULTE, Times Staff Writer
Published August 23, 2007

SAFETY HARBOR - Hoping to finally end the squabbling over sandwich boards, the City Commission this week made several modifications to its ordinance.

Officials voted 3-1 Monday to impose three rules:

- Sandwich boards must be placed on or very close to a business owner's property. That means businesses not on Main Street will be banned from putting them along Main Street

- Business owners will be required to carry insurance that clears the city of liability.

- Business owners must apply annually for sandwich board permits.

If merchants violate the regulations, they will be given a warning. A second violation will result in forfeiture of their sandwich board privileges for the rest of the year.

Officials will start enforcing the rules in January. By then, they hope, decorative sign posts guiding shoppers to side street stores will be installed. The design of the signs has not yet been determined.

"We tried to hit middle ground to benefit the businesses on and off Main Street as well as the citizens," Mayor Andy Steingold said.

City Commissioner Joe Ayoub was the only member of the commission to vote against the plan.

He said he prefers a simpler approach that is easier to enforce and less burdensome to the city.

"Quite frankly, I lean toward phasing out the sandwich boards in favor of the permanent signs," Ayoub said.

Vice Mayor Kathleen Earle was not present for the vote.

For years, Safety Harbor's business community has been wrestling with the issue of the eclectic, freestanding A-frame signs that line Main Street.

Some say the signs clutter up the city. In March, the city created a task force to come up with several alternatives for sandwich boards. Members presented their findings in June.

Julie Brannon, owner of Bailey's Naturals at 470 Second St. N near the Gazebo, said her business depends on her sandwich board. She was not happy with the commission's ruling.

"The decision that they made fractured the downtown business community," Brannon said. "They said if you're on Main Street, you're going to have certain rights and if you're off Main Street your rights are different."

She said she is troubled that city officials "chose to hand off its task of devising a solution to a (task force) whose leadership clearly had its own agenda which was to disallow off Main Street businesses to have sandwich boards on Main Street."

But Betsy Byrd, owner of the Stuffed Mushroom, a catering company on Main Street and a task force member, said the decision will help the downtown businesses financially.

"I think it's a good representation of what the majority of the downtown businesses were looking for," she said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.