More than a decade after she led a crusade to lower new business advertising signs in Pasco County, Kathryn Starkey is gearing up to bring the “grandfathered” ones up to code.
The county commissioner says it’s time her colleagues start looking into enforcing the sign laws — which typically limit sign height at 11 feet — uniformly across Pasco, including those signs that pre-date the 2003 changes to the ordinance. Starkey, however, says she won’t push it without trying to find at least some help for business owners, who would have to invest in new signs.
“One of the biggest complaints I get is the old signs that are still up, so we got to figure out a way to help those businesses bring those signs to our new look,” Starkey said. “It’s difficult. It’s a financial investment, but I think we should incentivize them to bring them up to the current code.”
How to incentivize those businesses is still a big question mark, but one possibility could be offering small grants or even low-interest microloans to help defray the costs, Starkey said.
Businesses with grandfathered signs have been allowed to keep them as long as they are not changed in a way that would make them become “more non-conforming” to the ordinance. After 11 years, some of those signs are starting to show their age, and are looking more and more out of place in areas where ground-level, or monument, signs have become the norm.
Starkey’s original goal was to prevent the growing Wesley Chapel area from becoming what U.S. 19 is on the western side of the county. Because of Wesley Chapel’s proximity to Interstate 75, early signs would create what Starkey called “circuses in the sky,” to be visible to interstate travelers still a couple miles away.
Instead, Starkey — through her activist group Scenic Pasco — influenced the way the county looked at both business signs and billboards, all before she first sought elected office. That work brought Wesley Chapel more in-line with the standards of neighboring New Tampa, and prevented some roads like State Road 54 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard from being littered with high road advertising signs, each one trying to outdo its neighbors.
Fortunately, a good portion of Wesley Chapel was developed after the ordinance went into effect, so many of the problems involving grandfathered signs are not present in Wesley Chapel. But as Starkey heads west, first through Land O’ Lakes, and then toward U.S. 19 — with the new development of Trinity one of the lone exceptions — she gradually finds signs creeping higher and higher, and it’s something she wants to finally get fixed.
“In September, we’re having our first community meeting about redevelopment, and I think we’ll start exploring the ideas of how we can help people not only deal with their signs, but maybe help them to figure out how to improve their landscaping and even the architecture in their buildings,” Starkey said.
The change in business signs and billboards helped not only Pasco to grow, but property values as well, she said.
“I’m very glad that we had a county commission at the time that was willing to take the political hit from some who didn’t want to change the way they were doing business,” Starkey said. “But it’s made such a difference. We have to have ordinances like this because it really does affect our quality of life, and how other people see us. Otherwise, what it says to me is that we don’t care about how we look.”
Published April 30, 2014
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