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Readying to rein in signs

Pasco County is a month away from presenting the first draft of an ordinance that could drastically reduce the number, size and intrusiveness of roadside business signs.

An out-of-county law firm hired for $28,000 to fine-tune the much-delayed ordinance has promised delivery by mid-August, Assistant County Attorney Barb Wilhite said last Friday.

Calling a sign rule overhaul a "major priority," Wilhite said the ordinance will attempt to duplicate rules in Hillsborough County's New Tampa area that require new businesses to forgo pylon signs in favor of ground-hugging monument signs.

Pasco will grandfather in existing taller signs, but a change of ownership of a building could invoke the tougher sign rules.

"Our major focus is for the monument signs," Wilhite said.

The changes were driven mostly by groups such as Scenic Pasco, fearful that a commercial explosion in places like Wesley Chapel will leave communities littered with eyesores.

The issue came to a head with the erection of a 40-foot pole sign in front of a Super Target store that opened in March at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and County Line Road.

Neighbors worry that the longer the county takes to overhaul the ordinance, the longer developers can play by the old rules.

Developers of the Shoppes of New Tampa already have plans to put up two 30-foot-tall brick pylon signs.

In April, Pasco planners completed a draft of a new sign ordinance, a patchwork of rules plucked from ordinances elsewhere. It didn't pass the muster, however, of the County Attorney's Office.

"It didn't flow. There were so many inconsistencies," County Attorney Robert Sumner said.

County commissioners hired outside legal help on June 18, mostly to ensure that the new law didn't violate the First Amendment by infringing on free speech.

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