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Sign ordinance passes, implementation postponed

By Staff | Oct 1, 2013

In the face of business owner opposition, Cape Coral City Council compromised Monday, passing its controversial sign ordinance but holding implementation in abeyance for six months.

The vote was 5-3 with Mayor John Sullivan and council members Chris Chulakes-Leetz and Kevin McGrail opposed.

Supporters of the ordinance said holding implementation until April, 2014, will give small business owners – who said they were not part of the the months of discussion – an opportunity to come up with suggestions to make the ordinance better.

“We’ve kicked the can down the road long enough. We’ve listened. Now, I want you to take six months and make whatever adjustments need to be made,” said Councilmember Marty McClain, who sponsored the ordinance. “You can put it all on paper and make it look really nice.”

Those in opposition said while the ordinance, which McClain has worked on for two years, was a good one, it needed to be better. Therefore, it didn’t make it sense to pass it and tweak it on the fly.

“If the ordinance takes six months to take effect, it isn’t a good ordinance,” McGrail said. “It needs to stand or fall on its own.”

Chulakes-Leetz made a motion to table the ordinance, saying that while there was a good framework, there still was some work to be done.

“We can improve this ordinance. Let’s not accept ‘good enough,'” Chulakes-Leetz said. “I’ve gained a new respect for sign wavers. To just slash and burn others’ ability to work is a disservice.”

The ordinance will take effect April 1. Many of the new prohibitions are basically the same as the old ones, but because of all the special exceptions made during the economic downturn, Code Enforcement officer Frank Cassidy said it was impossible to enforce the current rules.

“We were getting complaints about the carnival atmosphere on Del Prado and Cape Coral Parkway,” Cassidy said. “Good ordinances provide guidelines and we want to be fast, fair and predictable.”

The ordinance will limit the total coverage of signs on window frontage to 30 percent, though you could request more with a permit.

It was a law Cape Coral Police have advocated because they maintain signs obstruct the views inside and out of any potential trouble.

It was also a rule the task force behind the ordinance could not agree upon. Some small business owners said they used the signage as a way to keep the sun out and save on air conditioning.

Also, sign wavers were restricted off rights-of-way while portable and A-frame signs are again prohibited. “Feather banners” will be allowed only during certain times of the year, with rules also governing their fabric.

The sign waving rule was especially important to David Michael Brantley, a disabled veteran who waves a sign for Dixie Roadhouse.

“I make a good living and found a way to do something I’m good at. One of our biggest problems is employment and someone gave me a job,” a passionate Brantley said. “They say they aren’t productive, they are cost effective and effective, and I like circuses.”

The ordinance also addressed menu boards, LED displays, real estate signs and permit boards, among other things.

Most of the small business owners present complained they weren’t given a seat at the table during the process, even as they conceded some of the ordinance made sense.

Others said the ordinance would cost not just sign wavers, but other workers their jobs as well, since they will get less drive-by business.

They also said the ordinance could put them out of business.

“You’ll cost me $50,000 a year if you take away my $80 sign,” said cabinet maker Mike Durham. “Who are you protecting? A few professional whiners?”

Councilmember Rana Erbrick was ready to move the ordinance forward now, not in six months.

“Not in eight years has a sign or a sign waver enticed me. Advertise in the Yellow Pages or on the Internet where I can look you up,” Erbrick said. “Signs are clutter and I don’t pay attention.”

For Lynn Pippinger, owner of Dixie Roadhouse, the six month moratorium will give everyone a chance to address the major issues.

“As for A-frames, I like to walk up to a restaurant and see what their specials are,” Pippinger said. “I think some of the issues of this do need to be tweaked a little.

As for Brantley’s future, at least she has six months to think about it.

“If I didn’t support the sign waving and didn’t think it worked I wouldn’t have my guy out there,” Pippinger said. “If he can’t be out there legally, we won’t put him out there. We like to be rule followers.”