BELLEAIR BLUFFS – The City Commission will liberalize parts of its sign code, allowing more sign types and larger signs than previously, while easing some other restrictions. The sign code revisions, presented at the commission’s Jan. 8 workshop, also will bring the city’s sign laws in line with a recent Supreme Court decision.

The latest sign code revision, a 40-plus page document, was presented by Rob Eschenfelder, an attorney with the Trask Daigneault law firm. It is the end result of an extensive review and rewrite of the code that began in late 2016 by Jacksonville attorney William Brinton, who City Attorney Thomas Trask had recommended for the job. Trask had called Brinton “the best sign code attorney in the U.S.”

Brinton later died, and the planned revisions to Belleair Bluffs’ sign code remained unfinished.

Trask recently assigned the project to Eschenfelder, with the main objective being to make the code compliant with the Supreme Court case. Mayor Chris Arbutine said a number of changes were also made “to loosen up the sign code.”

The mayor said the sign code was written and adopted in 2008 for esthetic reasons, as “we want our city to look good,” and public safety, making sure the signs are properly constructed so they don’t fall or blow down or become a hazard.

But the later economic downturn, and Hurricane Irma’s recent negative impact on city businesses, have caused a desire to loosen some of the restrictions on signs imposed by the original sign code redo. That law was never implemented, the deadlines for compliance being continually pushed back.

In December, Arbutine said signs have become an increasingly important way to advertise, with the decline of some other media. His family business, Belleair Coin and the Silver Queen in Largo, has benefitted from a large electronic sign in front, he said.

Eschenfelder said the revised sign code, if adopted, “will inoculate the city from constitutional challenge.” The current code is illegal under present law.

A number of changes were made to make the code more business friendly by loosening some of the restrictions. One major change is that non-conforming signs will be allowed until they are at least 50 percent destroyed. Under the original code, there was a deadline date when they had to be replaced, which was continually extended and never enforced.

Also, sign types such as flutter and feather banners and A-frame signs, which were mostly prohibited before, are now allowed under certain conditions. Monument and pole signs can also be bigger, with pole signs up to 150 square feet now permitted.

The “50 percent rule,” which allowed window signs to cover no more than half of each pane of glass, was changed to 50 percent of the entire window space, permitting larger signs.

Trask cautioned the commission against making all the sign code changes being asked for by business owners. The idea of the code, he said, is “to limit sign blight, not to give free marketing to everybody in the city.”

The sign code redo will be on the agenda for a first reading at the Jan. 22 regular commission meeting.

Garage sale set for March 10

The next citywide garage sale will be held on Saturday, March 10.

Having a garage sale throughout the city on one date “is perhaps not such a good idea,” said resident Arthur Carey.

Carey said attendees step on and break his sprinklers, bring dogs “who do their thing on my lawn,” and cause other problems, including, potentially, crime.

The sales “bring a lot of people here from everywhere,” Carey said, “and expose our neighborhood to everyone else.”

“What’s the point?” Carey said. “It’s just a lot of junk.”

He said it would be better if the city would allow individuals to get a permit from the city and have their own sale, whenever they want, rather than having the citywide sale.

Arbutine said “it’s one of those issues where people either like it or they don’t like it.”

“We limit it to two times a year, and you have other cities where they have garage sales every weekend,” Commissioner Suzy Sofer said,