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Safety Harbor officials recommend changes to city sign code

Signage at the Dog House of Safety Harbor, among other downtown businesses, led to a discussion about potential changes to the city's sign code back in October.
Signage at the Dog House of Safety Harbor, among other downtown businesses, led to a discussion about potential changes to the City of Safety Harbor’s sign code back in September.

A few months ago, heated reactions from some new business owners in downtown Safety Harbor regarding the city’s sign code led to a flurry of dialog between merchants and city officials and spawned the term “Signgate.”

Officials reacted quickly to the issue, placing a survey on the city’s website, researching the sign codes of surrounding communities, and hosting a town hall meeting, in order to gauge the merchants concerns and to determine if changes needed to be made to the code.

Last Monday night, during the first City Commission meeting of 2016, Community Development Director Marcie Stenmark outlined the results of the findings and presented several suggestions for amendments to the code.

After listening to the breakdown of the results from the survey, which contained 15 questions and received 75 responses, and hearing the feedback provided at the workshop and from the Merchants of Safety Harbor (MOSH) organization, the Commission agreed to move forward with the following recommendations:

An example of window signage in downtown Safety Harbor.
An example of allowable business window signage in downtown Safety Harbor.
  1. Increasing the exemption for window signage from 25% of the window area to 50% of total window area
  2. Changing the awning sign allowance from 9” tall letters and an insignia not exceeding 6 sq. ft. to a maximum square footage of 9 sq. ft.
  3. a – Allowing one shared A-frame signs for side street businesses on Main Street during events when Main Street is closed (a larger multiple-business sign might be explored later); b – Changing the spacing requirement between A-frames from 20 ft. to placing the sign in front of the business; c – Limiting the number of A-frame signs to one sign per business address or per suite for multi-tenant buildings; d –Increasing the chalk board maximum from 50% to 100%
  4. Consider a sign code amendment to address a Supreme Court ruling regarding signs (Reed et. al. v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, et. al.).

In addition to those recommendations, the commission approved exploring whether banners that are attached to walls in frames should be allowed, and discussed potentially fining repeat sign code violators.

The commissioners did not, however, approve the staff’s recommendations to eliminate annual permit fees for sandwich board signs; allow flashing “open” signs, banners or feather signs on a permanent basis, or balloons; adopt A-frame appearance standards; or allow A-frames on Main Street for businesses on side streets outside of events.

Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold.
Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold.

“My take is, we are striving to maintain our quaintness,” Mayor Andy Steingold said in regards to the rejected recommendations.

“But when you look at the sign code comparisons…we’re pretty consistent with other cities in the area as far as our signage code goes. Quite frankly, I liked our code.”

Despite the reservations and similarities to other codes, the commission ultimately decided to allow staff to take the stated recommendations to the Planning and Zoning Board for approval next month.

According to City Manager Matt Spoor, while neither side got all the things they wanted, he believes the proposed changes represent a fair compromise.

“This will help simplify the code so the merchants and staff have more of an understanding, and allow more flexibility and creativity when it comes to business owners,” Spoor told Safety Harbor Connect.

“We just wanted to establish a framework, and the merchants can get creative filling in the framework,” he added, noting that owners can now have four types of signs for their business: canopies, window signs, sandwich boards and wall signs.

When contacted, MOSH founder and chair Mercedes Ofalt praised the City’s efforts.

“The merchants really appreciate the city’s willingness to review the current sign codes,” Ofalt said via email. “They took the time needed to evaluate merchants’ and residents’ opinions, as well as neighboring communities existing codes.”

“There are some of us that feel that it still isn’t enough, but we have noted there are progressive and positive changes being made,” she added. “We are grateful for the open dialogue that remains between the city, merchants and residents.”

After being voted on by the P&Z in February or March, the proposed amendments would come back before the City Commission for final approval shortly thereafter, according to Spoor.

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