‘A CITY OF SIGNS:’? City leaders debate proposed changes to sign ordinance

Matt Algarin
During Monday night's meeting, city leaders debated proposed language that would change the city's sign code, possibly allowing for more than two signs on larger parcels of land. Under current code, businesses are limited to no more than two signs.

Tempers flared Monday night as city leaders discussed a proposed amendment to its ground sign regulations for macro-developments.

Initially, city staffers proposed language that would have allowed businesses with more than 1,000 linear-feet of street frontage to double the number of signs allowed. That didn’t sit well with Councilor Jim Bagby, who while trying to scrap the city’s two sign limit, still thought that doubling it went too far.

After the city voted 4-3 on a motion that would have allowed properties with more than 1,000 linear-feet of street frontage to have more than two ground signs, while still limiting the overall number of signs, Legendary CEO Peter Bos approached the podium and laid into the council.

“In our desire to say ‘signs are bad,’ signs can also mean jobs and business growth. If you are not advertising on 98 then you are screwed,’ ” Legendary Inc. CEO Peter Bos told the council before walking out of the chamber.

Looking at the HarborWalk Village property along U.S. Hwy. 98, they are maxed out when it comes to the amount of signage they are allowed to place under the city’s current sign ordinance based on the amount of street frontage they have.

During the meeting, Bos told the council that he was being denied a request to place a small sign along Hwy. 98.

“What we are doing is trying to get signage,” he said. “I can tell you for a fact that in our case we tried to get a one-foot diameter Starbucks sign, and we were turned down because we don’t have anymore signage.”

Bos added that there was a direct correlation between signs and sales at businesses, but Bagby wasn’t buying it.

“Yes, we should do everything we can to help businesses,” Bagby said. “But the link between signs and sales makes no sense to me. What we’ve been trying to do is get rid of the visual clutter.”

For Councilman Tuffy Dixon, “people wouldn’t be arguing over signs” if they didn’t make a difference.

“I don’t want Destin to become a Daytona Beach or a city of signs,” Dixon said. “My issue is that we are here now and we have a way to help our businesses in Destin, but we are muddying it up — if we can help them with a sign, or increase the amount of signs, I think we should do it.”

After Bos’ dramatic exit, the council voted to reverse course with a 5-2 vote, recommending that it be easier for large businesses to post more signage.

“I think Mr. Bos made a very good point there,” Williges said. “My vote wasn’t to hurt any businesses.”

During Monday night’s meeting, city leaders were looking at a proposed change to the ground sign ordinance that would allow for an increase in the maximum number of signs allowed for premises throughout the city that have an “extensive” amount of street frontage.

Under the current ordinance, a property can have two ground signs, which cannot exceed 160 square feet in size and they must be at least 150-feet apart from one another.

The proposed change would allow for two ground signs to be placed for every 500 feet of frontage the premises has, still meeting the square footage and distance requirements of the current ordinance.

As an example, if a premises had 1,450-linear feet of street frontage, under the proposed changes, it could have a total of five ground signs, each of which would be no larger than 160-square feet.

When it came time for city leaders to make their decision on the proposed changes, they decided with a narrow 4-3 vote to follow the staff’s initial recommendations, forwarding the item to the Local Planning Agency for its review. Bagby, Councilman Jim Wood and Councilwoman Sandy Trammell voted against the proposed changes.

Once the LPA parses through the proposed ordinance, it will come back before city leaders for possibly two more readings and a final vote.

Wood told The Log Tuesday morning that he voted against the measure because he didn’t want the city to rush to any quick decisions on the matter.

“I think it’s just an issue on the amount of signs,” Wood said. “No businesses have called me with this issue, so I’m not sure that we need to be in such a hurry to move forward with this.”