County more clearly bans human signs


Published: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 8:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 8:14 p.m.

The County Commission amended its sign ordinance Tuesday to more clearly define its prohibition of human signs -- an issue that sparked a federal court case earlier this year.

While the code had prohibited human signs before, the amendments make that provision clearer. The ordinance now defines a human sign as a sign that is held or worn, including costumes, by someone to advertise, provide information about or promote a commercial activity such as a business or product.

The commission -- sans Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson, who was absent at the time -- also approved the addition of a specific prohibition against any human sign with a commercial message as part of the amendments.

Signs carried, worn or displayed by people within the right-of-way can distract drivers, according to the meeting agenda, and were already forbidden under the ordinance’s provisions regarding portable signs and signs in the right-of-way.

The amended sign code, which applies to the unincorporated county, specifically identifies the human sign issue in order to improve the understanding and enforcement of that particular prohibition.

In June, the county settled the federal court case filed by Precious Metal Group that alleged the county’s sign code was unconstitutional.

The Alachua County Code Enforcement Board found Precious Metal Group guilty of sign code violations in September 2012. A code enforcement officer had issued a violation notice to its store at Southwest 13th Street and Williston Road in May of last year, citing a “We Buy Gold” sign-holder who had violated two sections of the county’s sign code.

The ordinance’s prohibitions against portable signs and signs in the public right-of-way had been violated, the officer said.

The Sun previously reported the store closed after it received the violations because the store said it couldn’t use sign-holders by the road to attract customers without breaking the county code and its level of business declined as a result.

The sign code amendments approved Tuesday evening clarified a couple of other issues. Banner signs on poles are allowed only on private property and sidewalk signs are likewise permitted only on private property and not on public sidewalks in the right-of-way. Sidewalk signs are also permitted outside while a business is open but not during its off-hours.

Earlier in the day, the commission accepted a grant of $77,812 administered through the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence for the Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center. This recurring grant money will allow the center to hire a victim advocate focused on outreach efforts in Bradford and Union counties, which are part of the crisis center’s coverage area.

Loretta Golden, the center’s director, said she wouldn’t ask the commission to use Alachua County money to fund a position that centers on helping people in nearby counties, so this grant is a great opportunity. She has been reassured by the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence that this funding will be provided each year, sustaining the new position and any related travel expenses.

The organization hasn’t been able to maintain a physical presence in Bradford and Union counties, but this new position will change that.

If the commission hadn’t approved the grant funding, it would have curtailed the center’s ability to serve those counties, Golden said.

“It certainly would impact our certification as a rape crisis center,” she said.

The commission also approved the allocation of around $213,000 to replace the pole barn at the Alachua County Fairgrounds, which partially collapsed last December and had to be dismantled for safety reasons. The county is moving funds from completed and ongoing parks projects to pay for the pole barn project.

The replacement will be a metal pole barn that can be dismantled and moved to another spot in the event of the fairgrounds’ relocation, which the county is discussing. It needs to be ready for events starting in January that will require use of the pole barn.

The now-defunct pole barn’s collapse during a storm resulted from multiple factors, including the structure’s exposure to weathering, lack of maintenance and age, The Sun previously reported.

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

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