LARGO — A round of applause broke out in commission chambers April 2 after city leaders officially voted to repeal a nearly 12-year-old deadline to ban pole signs that was just two months from going into effect.
Commissioners voted 5-2, with Samantha Fenger and Michael Smith dissenting, to adopt an ordinance that both eliminated the deadline and strengthened the city’s code to expedite the transition to monument signs.
“I do believe that we want to remain a business-friendly city, and I think this ordinance proved that to a lot of people,” City Commissioner Donna Holck said.
Several of those people thanked commissioners for allowing them to keep their well-maintained pole signs.
Atul Jobanputra, whose family owns the Belleair Village Motel on Clearwater-Largo Road, said his sign has been standing since 1965 and is part of the DNA of his business.
“I appreciate all of you for having the vision and courage to place the needs of small business owners above politics,” he said.
Terri Hepburn, manager of East Bay Animal Hospital, said she appreciates the change in course.
“I, too, would like to thank you all for stepping outside politics maybe for a few minutes and acknowledging the hardships that some of the small business owners have and with the sign issue, and I think we’ve reached a very good compromise,” she said.
If commissioners didn’t eliminate the June deadline, the city would have had to fine nearly 600 property owners for not transitioning their pole signs to monument signs, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Instead, the commission compromised, deciding to amend the code so that signs now must meet minimum appearance standards, including the foundation, rust, dents, holes, exposed electrical components and proper landscaping.
Any nonconforming sign that will require a permit to be modified or repaired will now have to be removed or replaced with a monument sign within 90 days.
Also, changing the Master Signage Plan as a result of adding or modifying signage on a property would mean all signs would have to be replaced.
Amendments were also made to target abandoned signs and even conforming multitenant signs that are 60 percent or more blank.
Opponents of amending the code, such as Fenger, Smith and members of the Planning Board, said the move was unfair to those who had already complied and that it sent the message that the city was not willing to follow through on its decisions.
Andrew Grantham, co-owner of Tampa Bay Extended Stay Hotel on Ulmerton Road, said the decision is a win for everybody.
“I’m so grateful you (the commission) listened to our stories and reasoning about the ordinance,” he said. “And not only did you listen, but you reacted with a compromise that works for the city and the businesses.”