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Get signs shipshape
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Up and down our roadways, both large and small, commercial properties have one thing in common: Blown-out signs.

Store after store, offices, doctor buildings, you-name-it, the hurricanes of the past season have left their mark in signs that show their fragility. And apparently, they ain’t so cheap to replace. Either that, or the sign companies have been too busy to get to them, because there are still plenty of them with big old holes.

The day after each storm, I winced as I drove over the shattered plastic strewn on the roads. I wondered how we could ever have approved such flimsy material for use in a coastal county that sees its fair share of wind. Just like the aluminum that covered carports and was peeled back like the top of a cat food can, and the canvas canopies that shredded like streamers at a party, our signs took a beating in tropical storm conditions.

And like the aluminum carports, the signs ripping and dancing in the wind is dangerous business.

The county should take swift action and draft a countywide ordinance that puts a limit on the height of signs, places restrictions on the kind of signs, and encourages the low-lying wooden signs that proves their endurance by the mere fact that they are still standing and looking fine.

This is not an aesthetic point. This is a safety issue. The signs that rip apart so easily and go flying across the streets, into our cars, and maybe even into pedestrians are a menace. We have emergency plans in place that are being constantly honed, with our officials amending their own plans to make them more efficient.

I commend them.

Now, I urge them to recommend to our politicians a change in the sign regulations, one that is countywide.

It would not be a popular thing to do.

Commercial sign restrictions are a hot potato. Business people would rise up and rip apart the poor soul who actually brought this issue to the public’s attention. Whenever commercial signs are discussed, it becomes a a quagmire of emotion, since business owners depend on their signs for business – some more than others. And some with more money (a.k.a. power) than others.

Just look at how much trouble it is to get billboards regulated.

And yet, there are many examples where smaller, lower, and better built signs have worked. On Sanibel Island, a location that is often cited for its strict zoning and its desirable atmosphere, all of the signs are low to the ground and nice looking, though they do not “shout” to potential customers or blink on and off like South of the Border.

The argument on the other side is that if all of the signs are equal with respect to height and size, then all businesses have an equal shot at getting business.

In Pinellas County, it would take decades for the grandfathering effect to take place and for all of the signs to be destroyed or otherwise replaced in compliance with the “new” ordinance. Business signs would be lopsided. And that would be unfair. But it’s also unfair to put the rest of us in danger to increase businesses’ visibility.

The answer? At the very least, municipalities should consider strengthening their own sign ordinances. And while waiting for that wheel to turn, individuals replacing their signs today can consider their contribution to their community – do they increase the hazard, or lessen it?

Or better yet, do we just forget about it, do the cheapest and easiest thing, and then start paying for it all over again next season?

Mary Burrell is managing editor and editor of the Beach Beacon and Seminole Beacon.
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