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Be leaders on sign control

Today Pinellas County commissioners have an opportunity to show some leadership on the issue of countywide sign control.

Commissioners can prove they are serious about controlling signs by approving a new sign code for the unincorporated portions of the county _ something they refused to do last September. Further, they should extend the deadline they set for cities to bring their own sign codes into compliance with the proposed county code.

County commissioners have felt the heat of public disapproval since last September. They had directed the Pinellas Council of Mayors to develop a sign code that all the cities and the county could live with. Then, when that model code was finished, commissioners refused to pass it as written. They watered it down, then told the cities to adopt it first. And if any city or cities representing 2 percent of the countywide population refused to adopt the code by this month, the whole idea would go up in smoke.

That didn't win them any applause, either from the public or from the mayors. It became clear that in Pinellas there is strong public support for sweeping up sign clutter, and there was disdain from residents for the quibbling and finger-pointing that continue even today among county and municipal officials. The message from the public was, let's get on with it and do it right.

The sign code the county should adopt today is just a start, since it lacks some of the strong controls that are in effect in a few cities. One of the weakest parts of the code _ its section on billboards _ can be easily and quickly strengthened. As written, the code would allow new billboards to be built in the industrial and highway commercial zones along U.S. 19. That's too many new billboards in a county that is tired of billboard blight. Instead, the County Commission can simply extend or make permanent the temporary ban it placed on new billboards while the sign code was being prepared.