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Agents try selling city on open house signs

(ran Beach edition)

Talk about a tough sell.

In the past few weeks, real estate agent Ruth Bartlett has spent hours pleading with city commissioners for permission to post signs giving directions to open houses.

"I am heavily lobbying these people," said Bartlett, 35, a Treasure Island resident and Century 21 agent.

She has made some gains, but the proposed ordinance, which will be discussed this week for the fourth time, includes all sorts of restrictions.

"The city is going to hell in a handbasket," said Mayor Walter Stubbs, who opposes the new ordinance. "We've got three commissioners on there who are only catering to special interest groups."

On Tuesday, commissioners are expected to decide whether to send the ordinance to the planning and zoning board for its approval. Afterward, the measure would come back to the commission for a final vote.

Bartlett and other real estate agents, including the governmental affairs director for the St. Petersburg Suncoast Association of Realtors, petitioned commissioners two weeks ago to revise the real estate sign code.

Off-site advertising is not allowed on Treasure Island for any business.

That poses a problem on the island, which has many fingers and cul-de-sacs, local agents say. People sometimes cannot find open houses. As a result, agents are faced with the expense of ads with directions.

"I have to put a two-line ad in the paper," said Bartlett, an agent with Grant Realty of Florida, a Century 21 office in Seminole.

Critics of the ordinance say signs are tacky, and that once permission is given to agents, every business will ask for the same rights.

"I don't think putting signs on Gulf Boulevard is a good idea because it's another distraction for motorists," resident Ron Lock told the commission. "The signs should be restricted to a location near the property being shown."

The ordinance would allow agents to display up to three directional signs on private property during open house times. The signs, which would be white with red lettering, would be permitted on Saturday and Sunday only.

What is unclear is whether real estate agents would be required to obtain permits for the signs and whether they could put their name or agency affiliation on them. Those issues are expected to be debated on Tuesday.

Bartlett also plans to try to persuade commissioners to allow signs on public property.

The problem, she said, is that if signs are limited to private property, agents would have to ask the owners for permission to display a sign.

Another tough sell.

So, Bartlett proposes "one open house sign in the public right of way."

But what happens if several agents have homes on the same street?

"It would be the first one who got there," Bartlett said.

Other beach communities limit where open house signs can be displayed.

St. Pete Beach does not allow them on public property. North Redington Beach, however, permits signs on town property during open houses.

A majority of Treasure Island commissioners do not favor signs on city property.

"I think you'd be opening up a bag of worms," said Commissioner Stephanie Lavino, who said she is not against open house signs. "Everybody would be sticking stuff up all over the place."

_ Leanora Minai covers the beaches for the Times. She can be reached at 893-8406 or by e-mail.