City, county take different tack on similar sign ordinances


Casey Lane, 20, spins a sign on Southwest Second Avenue in Gainesville on Wednesay, March 6. A federal lawsuit is challenging unicorporated Alachua County's ban on roadside sign wavers.

Brett Le Blanc/The Gainesville S
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.

They aren't at every major intersection, but they attract attention at quite a few.

Sign wavers are used by some businesses to bring in customers -- and are free to do so in Gainesville. But in unincorporated Alachua County, the practice is forbidden.

The county faces a federal lawsuit filed by Precious Metal Group LLC over the constitutionality of the county's sign code.

The Alachua County Code Enforcement Board found the company, along with property owner Louis L. Huntley Enterprises Inc., guilty of violating the sign code's prohibitions against portable signs and signs in the right of way, according to documents included in Precious Metal Group's legal complaint. The violations occurred at the company's “We Buy Gold” store at Southwest 13th Street and Williston Road.

The pair were fined $350 to cover prosecution costs in an August board ruling but didn't have to pay any $100-per-day fines, as stipulated, because they complied with the code within the required timeframe, said Kathy Bruning, legal secretary for the board.

Both the company and property owner were found guilty in September of a repeat violation of the sign code's prohibition of portable signs, according to a code enforcement board report. They were required to pay $280 in prosecution costs as well as $500 per day from Aug. 7, when the repeat violation was noted, until the day they complied with the code. The final tally of fines totaled $18,780, with Sept. 14 as the date of compliance.

James Minshew, who manages Precious Metal Group's “We Buy Gold” business on West University Avenue, said the 13th Street store closed because it couldn't bring in enough business without sign wavers. The company employs someone who flips signs at its remaining location, which doesn't conflict with city code as it would with the county's.

“We've got to have sign holders in order to stay in business,” Minshew said.

Neither the county nor the city specifically address the issue of sign waving in their sign codes, but their interpretations of their respective ordinances differ.

“I don't think we've looked at it the way the county has,” said Chris Cooper, code enforcement division manager for the city.

The county interprets its sign code as prohibiting sign wavers because it considers the signs they carry to be forbidden portable signs.

The city also prohibits portable signs but doesn't interpret that rule to encompass signs people hold, Cooper said.

The governments also differ in how they handle violations regarding portable signs and signs in the right of way. When necessary, the county refers violators to its code enforcement board, while the city sends them to court.

Ninety percent of county cases never reach the board, Bruning said. The county works to educate violators on complying with the code and resolve problems before they reach that level, she said.

The county board adjudicated four cases regarding the sign code's rules on prohibited signs and signs in the right of way from 2012 through February 2013, Bruning said in an email to The Sun. In 2011, it ruled on five such cases.

The city, meanwhile, typically issues civil citations for violations of its right of way and portable sign rules, Cooper said. The city removes signs from the right of way and issues a civil citation as a warning, while its later citations include fines. Usually, the fourth citation notifies the recipient that the case will go to court.

People usually don't become egregious violators but rather work with the city to find a solution that works with both their needs and city codes, Cooper said.

Most sign-related civil citations have been warnings over the past few years, and Cooper couldn't recall any violations that have required issuing a notice to appear in court, he said in an email to The Sun.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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