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City is cracking down on illegal sign postings

By ANDREW MEACHAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


Tacked to telephone poles, hung on road signs or staked in the ground, the ambitious signs often promise much: Lose weight. Work from home. Get cheap insurance.

Just as frequently, they want you to know about a garage sale, a yard sale, or a community meeting. A lost cat or a lost dog.

Either way, the signs end up in a forlorn corner of the city's sanitation complex at 2001 28th St. N -- in a trash container. Behind the railroad tracks, on the edge of a "brush site" with machine-combed dirt surrounding an enormous woodpile, this is hardly the kind of location advertisers envisioned. Aside from a handful of workers and a security guard roaming among scores of industrial-sized, beige-toned trash containers, the nearest humans are in the Home Depot a quarter-mile to the east.

City officials would like to see all illegally posted "snipe" signs meeting this fate within 48 hours after they appear. While no one seems sure about the etymology of "snipe," city codes define a snipe sign as "a sign which is tacked, nailed, posted, pasted, glued or otherwise attached to trees, poles, fences, or other objects" bearing a message "not applicable to the present use of the premises or structure upon which the sign is located."

Since codes enforcement handed the job to sanitation last December, workers have turned 6,508 snipe signs into swiped signs. Many of those atop a nearly full trash container Thursday had announced garage sales Saturday, June 3. Signs for garage sales or lost pets now outnumber business signs, said Sheri Weaver, a community appearance representative for the sanitation department.

That marks a change from the project's first month, when workers pulled 1,696 signs. Although advertisements for job openings, business "opportunities" and cabinet re-facing are still well-represented on city property -- and in the trash container for snipe signs -- more advertisers are getting the message, Weaver said. After complaints to the City Council about the signs, officials gave sanitation the job of pulling them up. Previously the duty had fallen to overworked codes inspectors. The decision was based, in part, on the sanitation department's successful efforts to remove graffiti within 48 hours after it is sighted, a project Weaver headed up.

Speedy removal of graffiti or snipe signs works better than any other tactic, said codes compliance director Sally Eichler.

"It's been a deterring concept when they realize that, gee, they didn't get what they wanted," Eichler said. For Margo Johnson, whose sign wound up in sanitation's trash bin, the garage sale was an unqualified success. She and husband James had needed a garage sale. Their 15-month-old had outgrown the baby stroller and the teenager had tired of his skateboard. So they made up small signs announcing a sale at 2491 62nd St. N.

They put most of the announcements on telephone poles around the neighborhood. The Johnsons thought they had retrieved all of their signs the day after the sale. The one the city picked up had been staked in the ground.

Johnson said she understood the city's desire to rid neighborhoods of snipe signs, particularly those announcing events long past.

"People should be responsible for taking them back down," she said.

But even timely signs are illegal if what they advertise has no relevance to where they're posted -- say, a "lose weight" sign on a telephone pole in a residential area. Signs announcing neighborhood meetings are okay, but only if they're placed off the city's right-of-way. Usually, that means at least 30 feet from the center of the street -- or 9 feet from the curb. The same goes for garage sales, but signs about those are limited to three sales in a calendar year for each resident.

Commercial signs require permits from the development services department. Anyone needing to advertise a lost pet or youth activity should take out a newspaper ad, Weaver said.

"I don't like to take down a sign for Boy Scouts or youth football, but we can't pick and choose," she said.

Jim Biggerstaff, president of the Council for Neighborhood Associations, agreed.

"Come Monday morning, people should get them out of there," Biggerstaff said. "We can't have our neighborhoods looking like sign heaven."

Questions about snipe signs can be answered by calling the codes compliance office at 893-7373. Right-of-way questions should be directed to development review services at 893-7471.

* * *

Childs Park is set to clean up the neighborhood Saturday between Fifth Avenue S and 15th Avenue S, and between 34th Street and 49th Street. There will be another clean-up the following Saturday for the area between 15th Avenue S and 18th Avenue.

North Kenwood holds its neighborhood association and crime watch picnic Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bring a covered dish and a lawn chair to Booker Creek Park at 13th Avenue and 22nd Street N. Food and drink provided by Edward White Hospital.

Meetings

BONITA BAYOU: Thursday, 7 p.m. Munch's Sundries and Restaurant, 3920 Sixth St. S. Speaker: traffic engineer Jeff Ritter, on traffic calming.

CAMPBELL PARK: Wednesday, 7 p.m. Campbell Park Center, 601 14th St. S. Speaker: Neighborhood planner Melissa Elliff. Topics: neighborhood grants, July clean-up.

CHILDS PARK: Monday, 7 p.m. Childs Park Community Center, 4301 13th Ave. S. Speaker: A representative from the city will answer questions about reclaimed water.

DISSTON HEIGHTS: Tuesday, 7 p.m. Gladden Park Center, 3901 30th Ave. N. Topic: Traffic calming.

EAGLE CREST: No meetings over the summer. Watch newsletter or city Web site for notices of impromptu meetings, particularly about contributing to the grant application process. Direct questions to Lisa Wolfson, 898-4999.

HARBORDALE: Monday, 6 p.m. Trinity United Methodist Church, 2401 Fifth St. S. Final meeting until September. Speaker: Codes director Sally Eichler.

LAKE EUCLID: Monday, 7 p.m. Norwood Baptist Church, 1818 29th Ave. N. Topics: grant program, planning yard sale.

MELROSE-MERCY/PINE ACRES: Tuesday, 7 p.m. 20th Street Church of Christ, 820 20th St. S. Topic: Countdown for neighborhood plan going to the City Council.

PALMETTO PARK: Tuesday, 7 p.m. Macedonia Free Will Baptist Church, 2361 Seventh Ave. S. Topics: Neighborhood festival, traffic calming.

WOODLAWN OAKS: Tuesday, 7 p.m. Woodlawn Park Bingo, 1900 16th St. N. Topic: grant applications to city.

COUNCIL OF BUSINESS ASSOCIATIONS: Tuesday, 7:45 a.m. SoHo Gallery, 2105 Central Ave. Topics: How to start a business, talking points for charter review, expanding membership.

FOURTH STREET BUSINESS ASSOCIATION: Meeting this week. Call David Anderson for time and place, 822-3981.

MLK (NINTH STREET) BUSINESS DISTRICT: Wednesday, 8 a.m. George F. Young Conference Room, 855 Burlington Ave. N. Speaker: State House of Representatives candidate Margo Fischer, District 52.

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