BROOKSVILLE — When the Microtel Inn and Suites near Interstate 75 and Cortez Boulevard got its permanent sign eight months after opening last year, walk-in business soared 35 percent.
That's the proof officials with the new Microtel behind the Outback Steakhouse on Commercial Way in Spring Hill hoped would sway the Hernando County Commission to permit them to erect a larger and taller sign than the county's rules allow.
But the specter of Commercial Way someday looking like stretches of U.S. 19 in Pasco County stopped the plan short last week.
Commissioners turned down the request for a variance that would have allowed the motel to put up a 150-square-foot sign 40 feet into the air. The rules allow only a 50-square-foot sign reaching 25 feet high.
Company representative Tim Wainscott argued that a hardship existed because the steak house and a two-story building for an adjacent storage business blocked the view from U.S. 19 to the Microtel. A slope that put the motel lower than the frontage road between Outback and the Microtel and trees on an adjacent lot also blocked the view, he said.
"With this type of business, for them to know that you're there, they have to see you there," Wainscott said. "That's why you've got to have a sign you can see. Without that visibility, you won't have the draw. Our target is missed.
"We don't only lose, but the county loses tax money."
Commissioner John Druzbick questioned whether the county permits some sort of signage for frontage roads, but zoning administrator Gary Fisher said that the current rules didn't allow him to recommend a variance for Microtel. Druzbick said the county needs to look into the issue.
Commissioner Jim Adkins wondered whether approving the variance would set a precedent and lock the commission into future approvals. County Attorney Garth Coller told him that danger existed.
Several residents came to the podium to point out that the owners of the motel knew they were buying property on a frontage road rather than U.S. 19 — property with lower visibility, but cheaper land.
Former County Commissioner June Ester, who helped craft the sign ordinance during her tenure, said the rules were designed the way they were intentionally.
"We did this all for a reason," Ester said. "We drove on U.S. 19 in Pasco and used this as an example of what we did not want in Hernando County. … This was all well thought out 15 years ago."
Even if a business were allowed to put up a larger, taller sign because of its location, "if you were driving along on 19, you'd only see the sign for two seconds," said resident Anthony Palmieri.
Druzbick said that he agreed with Ester. The ordinance should be followed or adjusted. The commission voted down the variance unanimously.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.