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Friday, June 4, 2010

A “Sign” of Progress??

Marianna Commissioners and Marianna Business Community hold a two and a half hour marathon workshop on sign ordinance.

A “Sign” of progress?  Time will tell…..
In a marathon workshop session, approximately fifty Marianna citizens and business owners crowded into the meeting room at City Hall, eager for the opportunity to discuss the Marianna Sign Ordinance with their Commissioners.  The group represented approximately thirty local businesses.
The session evolved into an open discussion of the perceived problem areas within the existing sign codes, with everyone who wished to speak being given the opportunity to do so by the meeting chairman, Mayor Paul Donofro.  If nothing else, it was a helpful, informative exchange of ideas, concerns, problems, and perceptions.
The Commissioners will now allow the City staff to analyze the information, to again review the ordinance for revision, and then present a recommended revised document to the Commission for approval.  The suggested revisions will probably appear on the July 6 meeting agenda for Board action.
Some of the issues raised by local business owners included:
Gina Stewart, Connors Reality – Described how the Chipola Board of Realtors had participated in a nation wide “open house” promotion and were unable to get the locations of “display homes” available to the public in Marianna because of their inability to use directional signs.
Ken Barber, Evangel Church – Described how their church would like to assist the public in locating their church facility by placing directional signs on the major thoroughfare …just on Sunday mornings.
Lucien Watson, Watson’s Drugs – Described how banners for special promotions are very effective in drawing customers to his business, and the current five day, once per quarter with permit limit on banners hurts his business efforts.
Paul DeMersseman, Zaxby’s – Expressed his appreciation for the support the community has given his business.  He told of how their group owns several Zaxby’s in Georgia and Florida, and how Florida generally has codes and regulations which are stricter than Georgia.  He also stated that the sign restrictions in Marianna are much tighter than the requirements in Tallahassee, which is a town “full of bureaucrats”.  He stressed the fact that city government should be trying to assist local businesses as much as possible in their efforts to succeed.  He also described how often people who are looking for their restaurant drive by it without seeing it…because of their small sign.  He also questioned the reasoning behind the situation which exists on Lafayette Street in the area of his restaurant, where the north side of the road is zoned commercial, and has more latitude on signs than on the south side of the street where he is located which is zoned multi-use.  “It just doesn’t make sense”, DeMersseman stated.
Mystie Richards, Owner of Bistro Palms Restaurant – She described how her restaurant has an outside deck where tables are available for outside dining during good weather.  She had a banner draped over the railing of the deck, describing menu specials to her patrons.  She was ordered to remove the banner, even though it was inside the serving area of her business.  She complained of over regulation and intrusion into her business by City government.
Sandy Bigelow, Owner of “Fussy Britches” – Described her problems with the existing road construction at the intersection where her business is located.  She has parking available in the rear of the lot, but can not put a sign up directing potential customers to the available parking.  Also, the building was initially designed to have signs located in indentions on the building wall in front and on the side, and she can not use this feature for her advertising.  She stated that if the ordinance continues to restrict her ability to reach the public, she will be forced to move to another city.
Randy Roberts, Roberts Realty – Roberts emphasized the struggling real estate market and how the Commission should be trying to help them make it through this period of recession.  He stressed the need for directional signs to help people find homes which are for sale in an area.
Pastor Roy Crawley, Trinity Providence Church of Faith – Mr. Crawley questioned the sign size restriction which only allows a sign of 24 sq. ft. while they have purchased a sign for $6000 which is 32 sq. ft. in size.  He requested the Board to increase the allowable size.
Betty Jo Hand, Presbyterian Church – As an active member of the Presbyterian Church she and others wished to advertise the 145th birthday of this historical part of our community.  They wanted to put up a special sign for the anniversary year, which would be removed at the end of the year.  This was not allowed.  Also, the church has a small “A frame” sign telling of special church activities which is put out while the church is open and has to be taken inside while the church office is closed.  They would like to leave it out all the time.

In Defense of the Ordinance – Chad Taylor – Local resident Chad Taylor spoke in defense of the existing sign ordinance.  “I was among the group who researched ordinances in other cities, reviewed the situation in Marianna, and finally wrote the ordinance which was enacted,” Taylor stated.  “I feel it is a comprehensive, well written, and appropriate document which is needed.”
He cautioned the Commission to not destroy the effectiveness of the ordinance by making it too loose.  “The quality of life in our community is just as important as the needs of businesses,” he stressed. He described how he felt the entrances to the city, coming across the Chipola River Bridge or entering from the west end are an “ugly mess, just a mass of signs.  Beautifying our city is part of our mission,” he stated.

Reactions from the Board Members – Commissioners Wise and Roberts were vocal in their sympathy for the frustrations of the business leaders in attendance, as they agreed that in some instances the existing wording and omissions created confusion, and the ordinance was at times over regulatory in nature.  Commissioner Donofro appeared to be willing to listen and seek compromise, but was generally defensive of the existing ordinance.  Commissioners Clay and Milton declined to comment during the meeting.
“I do not feel the ordinance should ever do anything which hurts the business efforts of any of our businesses.  We should be doing all we can to help our businesses succeed”, stated Commissioner Wise.
At one point the problems created by the inflexibility of the Commission in never granting variances for any situations was raised.  It was stated that the commission had not granted a sign variance to any private citizen or business in the past fourteen years.  Mayor Donofro stated that he did not feel that was a correct statement.  “Well, I have served on this panel for nine years”, stated Commissioner Roberts, “and I cannot recall any variances we approved”.
Roberts stated that the existing requirement for the maximum amount of lineal space for a sign as a percentage of the building frontage of a business creates many problems and at times an almost foolish situations  He cited the problems he has had with making a sign saying “Roberts, Roberts, and Roberts” on the limited frontage of his office building.  “The letters had to be so small you can’t read them from the street,” he complained.  “This part of the ordinance certainly needs revision”.
Commissioner Wise asked repeatedly, “Can someone explain why the ordinance specifically prohibits ‘back lighted’ signs?  Why are these signs objectionable?”  There was no reason given in reply.
A lot of the discussion dealt with the situation where in some parts of Lafayette Street, businesses on the North side of the street are in a commercially zoned area and have more latitude on sign sizes than businesses located directly across the street on the South side which is zoned ‘mixed use’.  “I believe we should allow the commercial zoning sign regulations for businesses on both sides of Lafayette,” stated Wise.  Roberts agreed.

The city staff will now review the ordinance and will attempt to inject improvements into the areas where they feel they are appropriate, based on the open dialogue with the business community which was realized during this meeting.  Marianna business owners can now only wait until the July city commission meeting to see if any positive changes are made.  

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