Largo Eases Rules on Signs; Accepts Idea of 4-year Terms
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - The City Commission at its work session meeting Tuesday night agreed by consensus to grant temporary relief in its strict sign ordinance and moved toward implementing four-terms for elected officials.
Details will be worked out on the longer terms if the idea is approved by voters in a referendum in November. Other considerations are in the election picture as well. Low turnout depending on off years and the costs are being considered.
The current term for members of the commission is three years and the idea would be to move to holding elections every other year - in even numbered years - to coincide with county and off year and presidential year elections.
A cost factor comes into the picture because when an election involves more than just the city, the cost is lower and as a corollary higher when only the city is involved. For example, the cost of the election last November for one seat on the commission was about $70,000.
Businesses in Largo, as elsewhere, are hurting and merchants have asked that they be allowed to put up signs to attract more business.
The commission decided Tuesday night to allow certain types of temporary signage citywide for 30 days within each quarter for a year. The scheme will then be reviewed.
A steady stream of e-mails has gone into Largo City Hall over the past two months asking, begging, pleading for changes and in many cases strongly criticizing the current law on signage.
The controversy of business signs in the city has given rise to an accusation that Largo is not friendly to business. Some business people have pointed out that Largo is not a "garden city," pristine in its elements as a "show place."
One e-mail exactly captured this notion. It came from someone named Karen Cowles and said, "I own a local business and am sick of all the restrictions, costs and garbage we suffer trying to be in business." Her message went on to say, "There is nothing here but houses, cars and buildings. It is not a show place or Alaska country side."
The latest uprising over sign restrictions in the city came in March when several business owners showed up at City Commission meetings, speaking at citizen comments, and requesting that the restrictive rules be relaxed to help them in the disastrous economy.
The city maintains that the sign ordinance, most recently amended just last year, incorporates the idea of allowing commercial advertising balanced with safety concerns for motorists, pedestrians and others within a framework of aesthetics.
Businesses want to be allowed to use "temporary" signs and attraction getters like balloons, streamers, banners and the like to enhance their prospects of doing more business.
The question the staff put before the commission to find some sort of accommodation for businesses was in several parts -
First, "Does the city commission wish to relax the current sign ordinance?" And, if so, "Should relief be provided within the community redevelopment areas only or city-wide? Should relief be provided for a period of one year, with a review at the end of the year? Should relief be provided 30 days per quarter, or consistently through the selected time frame? Should relief be restricted to banner or dolphin signs, or all currently prohibited signs? Does the City Commission concur with staff's recommendation to relax installation requirements for signs?"
Carol Stricklin, Director of Community Development, laid out the options to the commission and the discussion among the commission members was a mixed bag of opinions.
Commissioners Harriet Crozier and Curtis Holmes pushed for citywide application of the temporary measure on the basis of fairness and non-discriminatory.
Vice Mayor Woody Brown said he thought too much emphasis was placed on the idea of signs being the "make or break" of a business. Commissioner Gigi Arntzen was close to that, saying she was not totally persuaded that any changes at all were needed.
Commissioner Bob Murray was more lenient, favoring the extra signs idea for 45 days a quarter instead of the 30 agreed on.
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