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New Margate Sign Code presents challenges for residents and businesses alike

Human signs are out. Vehicle signs are restricted and businesses can cover windows up to 50% with signs. Single-family homes are allowed five opinion signs year around on lawns with sayings like “my daughter is army strong”; “my neighbor is a jerk” or “I worship the devil,” commissioners said when approving the new code. __________ Margate’s sign code has been revised numerous times since 1996 when the city abolished the use of pole signs for businesses. Since, city officials have attempted to adapt sign code needs alongside the economy and redevelopment - at times creating hardships for businesses in locations that can’t easily be seen by motorists. Human Signs Human signs were regulated first in Margate in 2012 to keep signs off street medians and to limit distracting movements. The novel form of advertising was tolerated as businesses in the city continued to recover from recession and needed roadside exposure to attract customers. Now with the economy in recovery city commissioners outlawed the practice effective last month. Human signs are now illegal and can be met with citations for the sign, the business or the property owner. Vehicle Signs At a workshop last year, city commissioners determined that truck signs (vehicle signs) are not only bad for the city’s image, but may discourage businesses from coming into Margate. Subsequently, the signs were strictly regulated and prohibited within 100-feet of a right of way for a period of three hours or more unless the vehicles were used in the regular course of business. Since, Margate code compliance has issued warnings and State Road 7 is looking better - though some businesses continue to make a mockery of new laws. Window Signs Window signs for Margate businesses have run rampant over the years. While city code required that only 25% of the surface area of windows be allowed signage, most exceeded the limit with some covering widows up to 100%. Vice Mayor, Tommy Ruzzano, said felt as though 50% was too little. He said numerous businesses in the Lakewood Mall and Peppertree Plaza had windows covered up to 75% and he didn’t want the city to be business “un-friendly.” Ruzzano met with resistance from Mayor, Joanne Simone and Commissioner, Frank Talerico, who both felt that allowing 50% window coverage was adequate. Talerico expressed concerned that too much window coverage would discourage investors from coming into Margate. “You look around Margate you don’t want it to look trashy. I hate to say that but these window signs are not conducive to business if you think they help your business you’re wrong. I’ll tell you why. These other cities have 25% and their businesses do fine,” Talerico said. “If you’ve got a good product I think 25% or 50% is more than enough in your windows. You don’t want it to start looking like a honky-tonk thing.” Simone said city redevelopment officials were against 75% coverage and felt 50% was enough. While the majority of cities surrounding Margate allow for 25% window coverage, commissioners agreed on 50% for Margate’s new sign code. Since the new law went into effect, businesses around the city continue to be non-compliant, including two properties (pictured above) managed by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency to which city commissioners comprise the Board. Election Signs Classified as a temporary sign in the code, a total five Election Signs were recommended for single-family yards up to 90 days prior to an election by the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Board. Last month, commissioners voted 4-1 to ignore the recommendation and allow the signs 12 months out of the year (year round) with Simone in dissent. The Mayor said she agreed with the P&Z Board’s recommendation to keep the signs at 90-days. Planning and Zoning Board official, Anthony Caggiano, explained P&Z’s position on the matter. “The ability to put five signs on your lawn 12 months out of the year on as many lawns as possible would make neighborhoods look trashy and make it not look good and that is the reason why we did it because we actually want our city to look good,” said Caggiano. “Five signs on a lawn for 12 months is [sic] going to piss off a lot of people’s neighbors.” Commissioners Lesa Peerman and Frank Talerico said they didn’t think political candidates would erect election signs year-round and voted to amend the proposed sign code from 60 days to 12 months for election signs. This contradicted statements made by Talerico in 2012 when the commissioner voiced concerns over too many signs creating ‘sign litter’ and causing an aesthetic nuisance. Subsequently, commissioners then decided that signs must come down within 48 hours immediately following an election. Opinion Signs Like election signs, Opinion Signs are classified as “temporary signs” in code and were originally proposed by P&Z to be allowed for 90-days a year in residential yards. Opinion signs “indicate a belief concerning an issue, name, cause, or affiliation which is not scheduled for an election. This includes, but is not limited to, signs advertising political parties or any political information,” as the definition appears in code. The most prevalent of these signs is one that reads “My Daughter is Army Strong” located in the yard of a Margate Boulevard home. As pointed out by commissioners, opinion signs are far and few between in the city. But that may change now that the signs are allowed year-round. Because government largely cannot regulate the content of speech on signs as a matter of first amendment rights, what is good for election signs is good for opinion signs, Margate City Attorney, Eugene Steinfeld, advised commissioners while deliberating code revisions. “You cannot discriminate based on the content of the sign. Any regulation of content is very rarely allowed,” Steinfeld said of federal law. Talerico gave examples of how such signs could create problems in the city. “I hate god”; “my neighbor’s a jerk”; “I worship the devil” were signs Talerico said would be allowed - and up to five per single-family household. In response, Peerman said she didn’t want to interfere with homeowner rights.

[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]“I don’t want to impede free speech on people’s front yards that they pay taxes for and they want to say Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Hail Satan or whatever they want for 12 months that is their opinion that is the right of their opinion,” she said. Although commissioners didn’t think that most would erect opinion signs in their yards all year, Simone disagreed. “I think it could happen because if we do it for 12 months it’s a possibility that people could take advantage. I kind of agree with Planning and Zoning that it’s not going to make our neighborhoods look attractive. And this gives people the opportunity to do it if they so choose,” she said. Commissioners amended (4-1) the Opinion Sign portion of the ordinance from 90-days to 12 months with Simone in dissent. [if !supportLineBreakNewLine] [endif] [endif]

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