LARGO — These days U.S. 19 through the city is a speedway compared to the parking lot it once was.
As construction projects have turned the road into an elevated, limited access highway, a new problem has arisen for businesses dwarfed by U.S. 19 overpasses: Nobody could see them.
A tough sign ordinance that took effect in 2007 strictly limits the height and style of business signs, leaving Largo's U.S. 19 business owners fearing that their competitors along the highway in Clearwater and Pinellas Park would have an advantage.
But at a meeting on Tuesday, Largo commissioners cleared the way for a more relaxed sign ordinance for businesses dealing with seemingly endless U.S. 19 construction and faster traffic.
Commissioners voted 6-0, with Mayor Pat Gerard absent, to suspend sign ordinance enforcement for businesses along the corridor. They also ordered a sign ordinance revision that will provide more relaxed sign standards for U.S. 19 businesses.
Teresa Brydon, Largo's economic development manager, said the problem had been brewing for some time.
"For a long time — prior to the construction — there were some concerns that when the new sign ordinance came into play it would be difficult for the businesses to have effective signage," Brydon said.
U.S. 19 is the only major elevated roadway in the city, and Largo's codes didn't provide for any special exemptions.
Now, Brydon said, the city is taking a cue from neighbors Clearwater and Pinellas Park in drafting changes that will allow signs tall enough to be seen by passing motorists on the elevated highway.
Several signs are already high enough to be seen from the highway, but they were grandfathered signs that would have been required to comply with the 2007 code's lower heights by 2017.
Business owners along the route were pleased by the decision.
"Better signs would really help businesses around here," said Steve Interdonato, who operates Bicycle Express, a bike shop dwarfed by the highway overpass as it begins its rise over East Bay Drive.
Dominick Tao can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 580-2951.