ST. PETE BEACH — Growing complaints from businesses about stepped-up code enforcement prompted the City Commission to reconsider its sign regulations last week.
A sign in the form of a chef holding a blackboard at the Avenue Gourmet sandwich shop on Corey Avenue was just one example cited by Commissioner Al Halpern.
"It's hard for me to explain that we are in favor of business and we want them to be successful and then we come back and tell them to cut the chef's hat off because it's too tall," Halpern told the commission.
He asked for, but didn't get, a moratorium on sign enforcement.
What he did get was a commitment to ask businesses throughout the city for their suggestions, which then would be discussed at a September Planning Board meeting.
City Manager Mike Bonfield admitted that in the past, the city has not "stringently" enforced its sign codes.
But he recently hired a new code enforcement officer who commissioners praised for her diligence.
One business on Gulf Boulevard, the Cockney Rebel, is now facing some $350 in fines for illegal signage its owners hoped would boost their business.
"It's unfair that some businesses can, and some businesses can't have certain signs," Taina Branbant, one of the owners of the British pub, told the commission.
She had placed a sandwich board-style sign just inside her fence on Gulf Boulevard and received a $250 fine. The business previously had been fined $100 for a banner attached to the building.
The problem is that banners are not allowed anywhere in the city and sandwich board signs are only allowed on Corey Avenue and Eighth Avenue in Pass-a-Grille.
"Sign ordinances are probably the most controversial items that cities deal with," Bonfield said, warning the commission that an enforcement moratorium would lead to a deluge of signs in the city.
"If you say you don't want enforcement of the sign ordinance, it is going to be a problem for you," Bonfield said.
In addition to improper sandwich signs and banners, he said "most" temporary window signs in retail stores, restaurants and bars violate the city sign code. Also, many real estate signs are larger than allowed in the code.