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Signs can be twice the size, council decides

After months of study aimed at strengthening Brooksville's sign code, City Council members Monday instead voted to double the size signs can be. "I'm still baffled," council member John Tucker said Tuesday. Tucker voted against the proposal.

Tucker had initiated the study last year when he was mayor, partly in hopes of making specific what had been only vague guidelines, but also with an eye toward beautifying the city and ensuring that relatively small signs become the norm.

On Monday, council members voted 3-2 to approve the recommendations of an 11-person committee and to double the standard allowable sign size to 64 square feet.

"We thought we were going to keep signs the same size; instead, we increased them," said Mayor Joe Bernardini, who voted with Tucker.

"I don't know what happened. Maybe some pressure was put on the committee by the business community."

Chief among the committee recommendations is to allow existing businesses whose signs would be too large under the new guidelines to keep their old signs indefinitely.

The recommendations will come under public scrutiny during a first reading June 17 and a second reading July 1. After that, if the council gives final approval, the proposals become law.

This will be the second time a sign ordinance has undergone the public review process.

An earlier proposal written by the city's own Planning and Development Department late last year included a maximum sign size of 32 square feet, the same dimensions as the sign at the new Shoney's restaurant on Cortez Boulevard. That is the size limit in the current law, Bernardini said.

On March 6, during the first reading of that proposal, several business leaders argued strongly that more opinions should be taken into account before a final decision was made.

Council members each chose two people for the 11-person committee, and the mayor chose three.

Committee members elected SunBank and Trust Co. senior executive vice president David Alberson to be chairman.

Committee members, who met six times over several months, discussed but defeated proposals for even bigger signs _ up to 137 square feet _ and deadlocked on allowing signs of 96 square feet. The committee did not vote on the merits of a 32-square-foot sign.

But in its most substantive change from the previous proposals, the committee voted to change the way of dealing with older signs that do not meet city guidelines for size or other restrictions.

Under the city's original proposal, businesses would have had up to 10 years to replace so-called non-conforming signs, depending on how expensive those signs were. Under the committee's proposal, businesses would be able to keep their non-conforming signs indefinitely.

"It's asking a lot for small businesses to take down signs they may have paid a considerable amount for," Alberson told council members Monday.

Increasing the allowable sign size also would reduce the number of exceptions currently granted, he said.

"My question is, why did we only have half a dozen signs that would fall within that conformity (of 32 square feet) and a proliferation of exceptions. Obviously, that rule needed to be reviewed," Alberson said Tuesday.

The recommendations also would permit signs up to 72 square feet when as many as three businesses share one location, and up to 96 square feet when four or more businesses share a location.