Plan Board can't sign off on rules for electronic signs


Published: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Gainesville's planning staff will continue tweaking an ordinance that would restrict the use of electronic signs in the city after the City Plan Board was unable to approve recommendations on how to regulate or prohibit them at a Tuesday meeting.

While the six board members at the meeting could not agree on specific recommendations to the City Commission, which will make the final decision on the matter, a strong majority of board members spoke out against the sign and made favorable comments about restricting their use.

The decision to send the issue back to staff for further revisions came after board members were unable to muster enough votes to pass a series of recommendations suggested by board members, staff and Gainesville residents. These plans include regulations that would prohibit the signs altogether, require businesses to receive a "special use permit" from the Plan Board in order to set one up or allow the signs but restrict them to 10 square feet or less.

"Regulation is definitely needed or else we will slide down a slope that the broader public of Gainesville will regret," said Plan Board Chairman Peter Polshek.

While no recommendation came out of the meeting, it featured a 3-hour debate over whether the signs represented an important marketing tool for local businesses or a distracting eyesore.

The signs that would be covered by a Plan Board recommendation include those that use LEDs, which use individual bulbs to to spell out or scroll words and pictures, and could apply to full-color LCDs as well. Opponents of these signs say they are more garish and distracting than traditional signs and disrupt a more traditional design aesthetic in the city.

About a dozen representatives of Gainesville businesses and sign-manufacturing companies showed up at the meeting to oppose the ordinance.

Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce President Brent Christensen said signs provided an effective way for businesses to advertise, and electronic signs would help local businesses compete with larger chains that had more advertising dollars. Christensen also said many electronic signs in Gainesville are more attractive than other signs.

But some worried that not regulating the signs will "open the floodgate to the proliferation of (electronic) signs all over the city," said Chuck Woods, a member of the City Beautification Board. "The signs we've seen so far are few and far between but once these become commonplace on all our corridors we can only imagine what the end result will be."

C.B. Daniel of Alarion Bank, which already has a 35-square-foot electronic sign on Newberry Road, said the bank's sign often promotes nonprofit ventures and community services and he defended its aesthetic qualities.

"We spent a great deal of time, energy and money building not just a sign — but if you go by there, if you have a neutral position, I think you'll say it's a very attractive sign," said Daniel, who ran unsuccessfully for Gainesville mayor in 2004. "It's landscaped, it's masonry block. It's not something that's just thrown up there."

Existing electronic signs would be grandfathered in and not affected by any restrictions.

Some said business considerations should not be the primary motivators for the city.

"Businesses are not the beginning and end of our daily lives," said Suwannee-St. Johns Sierra Club Chairman Rob Brinkman. "(The signs are) an annoyance, they're a distraction, they clutter our world."

Only one board member spoke in favor of the signs.

"With regard to the success of a business in this town, the 'sense of place' and the 'eye of the beholder' are not the bottom line," said board member Adam Tecle, referring to arguments made about the signs ruining Gainesville's aesthetics. "Dollars and cents are the bottom line."

Jeff Adelson can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com.

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