SEBRING — Updating the city’s sign ordinance may not be the most attention grabbing task of city government, but it’s important nonetheless, a planner said at a Sebring City Council workshop Wednesday night.
Jennifer Codo-Salisbury, deputy director of the Central Florida Regional Planning Council, said signs play an important role in providing directions, helping people locate businesses and government, and control traffic.
But, she said, there is a need to regulate signs in regards to safety, visual impact and readability.
The city has an interest in requiring signs that are readable and durable. There’s also a need for there to be some distance between signs.
“We want to reduce clutter so we don’t have a sign every 5 feet,” Codo-Salisbury said.
But whether the proposed updated sign ordinance is too strict remains a concern of at least one council member, Charlie Lowrance.
And one specific concern is addressing non-compliant signs, some of which may have been in place for decades, though never legally permitted.
Codo-Salisbury said that if a non-conforming sign was legally permitted it would be allowed to remain.
But Council members indicated they want to go beyond that in regards to the illegal signs.
They talked about a sunset provision that would give an extended period of time — possibly 10 years or more — for owners of those illegal signs to come into compliance with the updated law.
Sebring City Councilman Mark Stewart said that he would not want the city to suddenly remove all the non-conforming signs.
“I’m not an advocate of going around town tearing down signs,” he said.
Lowrance, who owns a digital billboard company, questioned whether the city will be able to adequately enforce the new law.
“Who’s going to drive around and say ‘that’s an illegal sign and that’s a legal sign.’ We don’t want to pick on people.”
Lowrance believes the sign ordinance being proposed is too restrictive, although better than what was originally proposed.
The City Council appeared favorable to one alteration suggested by Lowrance: allow for businesses with property facing on multiple streets to have multiple signs.
The proposed sign ordinance bans hazardous signs, unpermitted signs on public right of way, parasite signs, laser lights, searchlights, noise signs, emissions, communication interference signs, unsafe fixtures, snipe signs, vehicle signs (where a vehicle is parked for extended period of time with a sign) and signs with moving lights, except for traffic safety signs.
Window signs accepted in the CRA and the city’s historic district, murals, tablet signs up to 5 square feet, public purpose signs and signs held by a person are among those exempt from the ordinance.
The ordinance requires permits for temporary signs, permanent signs that are not exempt, and window signs in the CRA or the historic district.
Portable message center signs are only allowed for one-time event permitting, A-frame signs are only allowed during business hours.
In the CRA and the historic district, signs can only cover 50 percent of the window surface area and must fit with the architectural style and details of the building.
The City Council plans to hold another workshop on the sign ordinance, but the date hasn’t been set.