By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs Sign Ordinance Committee held a brief meeting on Jan. 2, allowing the public a final say before the committee submits its final recommendation to the DeFuniak Springs City Council next week.
Like all Sign Ordinance Committee meetings, this one was open to the public, something committee chairman Art Dees mentioned in light of a comment he said he received from a member of the community regarding the lack of a prohibition against billboards among the committee’s proposed changes.
Dees said the proposed changes to the ordinance give the city a “buffer zone” against nuisances and that the ordinance was not intended to cover every possible eventuality. Language in the ordinance gives the City Council the right of final review of all questions regarding signage, not least of which involve safety and public nuisances. That said, Dees pointed out that it was not the committee’s purpose to set DeFuniak Springs’ citizens against its business owners.
“This is not business versus citizens by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “We were asked by [the Council] to make recommendations from the business community as to what we would like to see. It will go to a public hearing. It will go before the Council. It will go through the normal process so that everyone will have the opportunity [to participate].
“We are in this together. Citizens benefit from a good business community and vice-versa.”
Only a few areas of the revised sign ordinance proposal were altered from the last review, mainly in the areas dealing with Section 17.03, which addresses off-premises signs, and in the inclusion of Section 17.13, which details permit requirements and the fines associated with not following those requirements.
Section 17.03’s Subsection C was revised to allow “off-premises” signs, those not actually located on the same property as the business for which they advertise, to be located within 100 feet of a residential zone (when measured along the common right-of-way). This is a reduction from the previous wording, which prohibited off-premises signs from being located within 300 feet of residential zones.
Sections associated with permitting are not new to the city’s sign ordinance, but Section 17.13 is new in the sense that the original revised ordinance, first introduced in an streamlined form at the committee’s first meeting on July 14 of last year, did away with the permitting process altogether. Though committee chairman Art Dees said he and the rest of the group did not initially want a permitting process at all, legal concerns regarding enforceability of the new ordinance necessitated the inclusion of sections detailing the process by which business owner could apply for permits.
The permitting process is largely the same as before, only simpler and with less regulation overall. Repairs and replacement of glass or plastic panels can be carried out without a new permit but any major structural alterations will require a new permit. Also, the permit application will still require drawings and specifications of the sign, including size, construction materials, manner of illumination if any and other usual details.
The section also includes a provision for a $100 fine if construction of a sign is begun without first obtaining a permit. Any construction must cease until a proper permit is applied for.
The Sign Ordinance Committee will make its recommendation to the City Council at its next regularly scheduled meeting, the first such meeting of 2012, on Monday, Jan. 9. After that, the Council will begin advertising for public hearings before the new ordinance is put to the vote. It was Dees’ wish that the Council take to heart the changes made to the sign ordinance with the understanding that the changes made reflect the desires of the people of the city and business community alike.
“I hope the Council will see this as the best effort of a combination of citizens of businesses coming together and saying ‘we want to show concern about our city but we also want to allow the opportunity for businesses to, if not prosper, at least survive,’” Dees said. “That’s been the core understanding of this group. I hope that Council will accept this as a first step. I hope they won’t try to re-do what this group has done.”