PALMETTO -- What happens in Palmetto, stays in Palmetto.
OK, not really, but the spirit of Las Vegas is something Palmetto officials say they hope to avoid as businesses convert from standard signs to electronic versions, including the city itself.
The city approved a new 42-square-foot electronic sign at its southern gateway near the Green Bridge on Monday just days after approving an upgraded electronic sign for Pet's Life on Eighth Avenue West. The trend is raising concerns on how to make sure the city's two main traffic corridors don't turn into a "Vegas-style strip," according to Ward 3 Commissioner Brian Williams.
"It's very clear to me in my one month here that our sign ordinance needs to be updated and there is especially a need to look at the electronic sign portion of it," said city planner Debra Woithe.
Never miss a local story.
The 1990 ordinance is out of date with modern technology, officials say, and is specific only in allowing electronic signs in the commercial district with a conditional use permit. In order to address electronic signs, the city updated conditional use permit language until the sign ordinance can be updated.
Woithe worked with Community Redevelopment Agency Director Jeff Burton in implementing "conservative" language in the permit to include requiring a sensor to automatically adjust brightness from 5,000 lumens during the day to 1,500 at night. Flashing or scrolling sign messages, videos or animation will not be allowed. Signs must contain static messages for up to 16 seconds and the switch to the next message must be virtually instantaneous.
"It's an emerging technology and they look more attractive than they used to," said Woithe. "And businesses are wanting to take advantage of that."
Electronic signs opposed
Ward 2 Commissioner Tambra Varnadore said she opposes electronic signs in the city and voted against the city sign.
"They can be viewed as clutter and contrary to the general benefit of the community," she said. "How many signs are too many? Is it OK to have one at every business?"
Woithe said the ordinance does allow every business one sign and businesses facing two roadways are allowed two.
"I don't think it's an appropriate look for the community," said Varnadore.
Woithe said it's important the commission reviews the sign ordinance because: "What you let one do, you let everyone do."
The city set a precedent with recent approvals, including its own 42-square-foot gateway sign that exceeds the ordinance maximum of 40 square feet, despite requiring a local business just days ago to reduce its sign from 42 to 40 square feet.
Williams said he doesn't object to electronic signs, but cautioned against generalities. Some cities, he said, require signs be installed at the same heights, "which makes businesses very difficult to find. I like it with staggered levels, but it's going to be a distraction no matter what we do. We can make it as least distracting as we can."
In her lone dissenting vote to approve the city's $62,000 gateway sign, Varnadore also objected to a "Welcome sign that is not cost efficient." The sign was approved 4-1 and Burton told the Herald Thursday work to install it could begin with a week and take between 30-60 days to complete.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.