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Businesses not fond of newspaper boxes

Dozens of newspaper boxes in downtown Tarpon Springs are interfering with attempts to upgrade and beautify the city's historic district, according to a group of business owners that wants the city to control where the boxes are placed. "We think the indiscriminate use of these newspaper boxes is a hazard to the citizens of Tarpon Springs, and they're aesthetically unappealing," said John Tarapani, president of the Main Street Association. Tarapani asked the City Commission on Tuesday night to control where the boxes can be placed.

So many boxes line some street corners that pedestrians are forced to walk into the street to avoid them, Tarapani said. In addition, the newspaper boxes stand out in the historic district, which has adopted strict sign laws to improve the area's appearance.

Commissioners sympathized with Tarapani's request and referred the matter to the city manager and city attorney for review.

"We're not trying to say we don't want newspapers in our community," Mayor Anita Protos said. "We just want to get them where they're safe and appealing to the citizens of Tarpon Springs."

Controlling the spread of newspaper boxes, however, will take more work than just passing a new law. In several court cases, judges have ruled that newspapers have a First Amendment right to place their boxes wherever they want.

Rob Althaus, circulation director for the St. Petersburg Times, said the Times would oppose any proposed laws aimed at controlling newspaper boxes. At the same time, he said, the Times has worked with communities concerned about where boxes are located.

"If a community thinks there is a proliferation of boxes, we want them to contact us so we can get with other newspapers and try to control it," Althaus said. "If we thought we were ruining the ambiance of a community, we might design a certain box that fits in with that."