MILTON — James Dabney and other small business owners showed up to the Santa Rosa County’s Monday committee meeting to protest the enforcement of the sign ordinance.
Dabney, who owns the East River Smokehouse on U.S. Highway 98 in Navarre, called for commissioners to work with businesses on a “sensible” solution. He and others in the county earned citations for their tall, feather-shaped signs luring customers into their businesses.
“Without us, who are you going to get to pay your taxes?” Dabney asked the five-member commission. “You’re coming after us for our signs. Well, I disagree. We need to work together on a sensible agreement that gets this handled.”
In April, about 107 small businesses were given one week to comply with the Santa Rosa County sign ordinance along 98, U.S. Highway 90, Avalon Boulevard, Woodbine and in the Five Points area, reported County Administrator Dan Schleber. He said 81 percent (87 of 107) took down prohibited signs, while violations were issued to the other 20 companies. The citations were part of a code enforcement crackdown that also included blighted properties and permitted borrow pits.
The county last issued citations to small businesses for signs 10-15 years ago, said District 2 commissioner Bob Cole.
However, Santa Rosa County is in the process of overhauling its laws on acceptable signage that now runs 15 pages long. Shawn Ward, the county’s community planning, zoning and development director, researched other counties in the state to give Santa Rosa County a benchmark for its regulations.
Don Salter, first elected as District 3 commissioner in 2000, said county officials were working with local chambers as well.
“It’s not our intention to hurt businesses or trash companies,” Salter said. “We’re trying to put stronger rules in place, but we want to support businesses.”
District 5 commissioner Lane Lynchard said the sign ordinance will help beautify the county, in fact, the recent enforcement has already “reduced visual clutter.”
Cole retired from owning and operating Bob Cole’s Automotive in Pensacola. He said he understands the pressures small business owners face. Cole proposed a compromise that would delay citation fines for 180 days, while county officials finish an update to its Land Development Codes by October.
The motion to put the issue on Thursday’s regular meeting agenda passed, 3-2, with Salter and Lynchard rejecting it. However, Cole said he planned to miss Thursday’s meeting, which may potentially delay any solution.
“This is something that needs to be done rapidly,” Cole said, noting that small businesses rely on typically busier summer months.