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Editorial: Changing sign rules unfair favoritism

Commissioner Pat Mulieri shouldn't retreat from championing aesthetic controls for Pasco County.

A year ago she warned it would be a step backward to amend the county's sign ordinance to permit light-emitting diode, LED, signs. (Think Las Vegas' garish, flashing message boards or, better yet, check the flea market along U.S. 19 in Bayonet Point for examples.) She was right. The county has worked hard over the past decade to improve its appearances by banning new billboards, adopting commercial sign and architectural guidelines, controlling lighting and outside noise at auto dealerships, and setting landscape standards for businesses.

The same sign debate resurfaced Dec. 16 and this time Mulieri acquiesced. She and Commissioners Michael Cox and Jack Mariano told staff to incorporate provisions for LED signs within an ongoing rewrite of the sign ordinance. So much for improving the face of Pasco County.

The impetus this time was an appeal from Florida Hospital Zephyrhills which faced a February date in Pasco County Court for a digital imaging sign outside its new medical offices along County Road 54 and Gateway Boulevard in Wesley Chapel.

Code Enforcement officers ticketed the sign as illegal even though the hospital maintained the county approved the building permit for its installation. The county had intended to prosecute the citation and said the hospital's complaint should not be with code enforcement but with the company it hired to file the permit application and install the sign.

Instead, a commission majority retreated. They held the citation in abeyance until the sign ordinance rewrite is complete. Meanwhile, Florida Hospital Zephyrhills will be allowed to light the sign, but not change the message contained on it.

The commission used improbable rationalization to reach that decision. Cox and Mariano, who have advocated for the LED signs in the past, said the hospital deserved a break because it is a large employer. In other words, give the big guys a pass while making everyone else adhere to the rules.

It is bogus reasoning, correctly deflated by Commissioner Ted Schrader, who noted the entrance to the new Groves of Wesley Chapel shopping center is across the street from the medical office and all of the businesses there adhered to the county's sign ordinance. Commissioner Ann Hildebrand shared his disdain.

The discussion followed by a year a similar debate in which the commission had been asked to grant waivers for LED signs to community development districts and homeowners associations. Doing so risked retracting the prohibition for everyone, the county's legal staff warned, and the commission declined the requests. No such logic prevailed this time.

Cox maintained the county ordinances should reflect 21st century technology and not mandate older signs in which individual letters are affixed to marquees. Mariano lauded the signs as energy efficient and said they are assets to businesses.

We disagree. The signs simply add to the clutter along Pasco's roadsides. The LED signs visible now predate the county's newer sign controls and the commission shouldn't be in a hurry to expand the jumble.

Mulieri, meanwhile, should re-examine her resolve. Even digital imaging signs that slow their message delivery are distracting to motorists. Allowing exemptions, or, in this case, rewriting the ordinance to benefit a large employer is contradictory to the cleaner path she and other commissioners traveled over the past decade.

Editorial: Changing sign rules unfair favoritism 12/27/08 [Last modified: Saturday, January 3, 2009 9:21am]
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