tampabay.com

Safety Harbor's accord on signs a fair solution

A Times Editorial
Published August 24, 2007


The Safety Harbor City Commission this week approved a fair solution to the problem of proliferating sandwich board signs downtown. Some people believe that sandwich boards sitting on sidewalks clutter the environment, look sort of tacky and should not be allowed.

There are some of those folks in Safety Harbor. They would have been happy to see a permanent ban on the A-frame signs.

For the city, the signs presented potential legal and political problems. City officials didn't want to seem unaccommodating to the business community, but what would happen, they wondered, if someone tripped over a sign on the sidewalk and was hurt, or if a motorist pulling out of a side street hit another car because the view was blocked by a sidewalk sign? And how would the city settle the inevitable feuds among business owners over the size, number or placement of the signs?

Sandwich board signs are of great importance to some Safety Harbor business owners who lack the revenue to advertise widely and depend on passing motorists spotting their signs. They wanted the sandwich board signs allowed because they added to the businesses' visibility.

A controversy arose when some business owners whose stores or restaurants are located on side streets off Main Street wanted to place their sandwich boards out on Main Street each day.

After a public hearing Monday, city commissioners approved changes to the city code that will allow sandwich boards under certain circumstances.

But the amendment puts a stop to the notion that businesses that don't operate on Main Street can put up signs on Main Street. Imagine the mess if such an approach were applied to permanent signs. Everyone would want to put a sign on the main thoroughfares.

The new code requires that sandwich boards be placed at the business, not in some remote location. It establishes an annual permitting process, so the city can maintain some control over the situation. And it establishes a maximum size for the signs, states how much sidewalk must remain unobstructed for pedestrians, and requires business owners who have their signs in the public right of way to maintain liability insurance.

The new ordinance takes effect in early January. Meanwhile, the city has pledged to work with local merchants to design and produce a few permanent Main Street markers that would direct potential customers to side-street businesses.

Such markers are common in revitalized downtowns and serve both utilitarian and decorative purposes.

The new ordinance is a good alternative to a permanent ban on sandwich boards, which is a decision the City Commission could have made instead.