LARGO – Agreeing that the recession had slowed down the process, Largo commissioners directed city staff May 13 to begin a new marketing campaign targeting the 753 businesses outside the community districts who still use soon-to-be-banned pole signs.
The “Refine the Sign” campaign will feature a new logo and a slogan, “Largo businesses making a monumental change.” Including notices about the 2017 deadline in annual business tax receipt packets have prompted only 125 businesses to build the ground-hugging, monument-style signs that the city would like to see along its major roads, in lieu of tall pole signs.
“The new sign standards are making a real difference in the appearance of our corridors,” said Community Development Director Carol Stricklin.
But the standards were changed in 2007, before the recession financially crippled many businesses and made it difficult for them to afford the new signs, which have cost companies who have complied as much as $12,000. So the commission was unanimous in asking staff to extend the 10-year amortization period two more years, requiring compliance by 2019.
Mayor Pat Gerard remained adamant in her request that the city find funding to increase the incentive the city offers, currently only $200, not enough to “to motivate anybody to do anything,” she said.
Gerard also asked for the staff to reconsider how signs along the U.S. 19 corridor are handled. Currently, the ordinance allows for taller signs where the roadway is elevated. However, given that the traffic of the whole highway is to be moved to an overpass in coming years, new consideration for the corridor was merited, she said.
The commission also talked about allowing businesses to negotiate for flexibility for the converted signs. Bigger plazas with multiple stores, like the Largo Mall and Tri-City Plaza, should be given more leeway, said Commissioner Curtis Holmes.
“I think you need to put a little bit of wiggle room on this,” he said.
Stricklin said a process could be put in place to allow requested leniencies to be negotiated with staff and reviewed by the city’s Planning Review Board. When the city of Clearwater enacted stricter sign standards in 1988, a similar process allowed businesses to negotiate for more square footage on their sign than was permitted by ordinance.
“I would like to look at flexibilities for all of them, not ultimate flexibility, but some more than what we have now,” Gerard said.
Commissioner Harriet Crozier asked why the proposed marketing campaign was being launched so late, with only three years left before the original deadline.
“The results have not been great,” Stricklin said. “That’s really why we’re here is because the commission has told us we haven’t gotten the word out adequately. So this represents a different level of effort of that marketing.”
Brown suggested that any increased incentive the city did enact should be offered only until the end of the original deadline in 2017, giving an incentive for businesses to comply by then. He didn’t agree that businesses weren’t making the transition due to a lack of knowledge about the changes.
“They’re not going to do it until we make them do it,” he said.
The commission agreed May 6 to give the businesses in the West Bay Drive Community Redevelopment District a $1,000 grant to help with the costs of converting pole signs. Brown said he planned to visit businesses in the district, where his own chiropractic practice is based, and explain the incentive, finally at an amount “I’m not embarrassed to go in and tell them about.”
He also asked the commission to consider doing away with an ordinance that allows temporary feather signs to be placed outside of businesses for 45 days. The city doesn’t have the staff to enforce the time limit, and he said he knew most businesses kept the waving flags up until they fell down.
“I don’t hear anything except how lousy they look,” he said.