Tampa wants LED sign rules enforced
January 23, 2010
They sparkle. They pulsate. They visually scream at motorists and passers-by, beckoning them with images of cheap gas, food, lodging and low mortgage rates.
Colorful animated or light-emitting diode signs, known as LED displays, have sprung up across Tampa and surrounding communities in recent years as businesses bet that the eye candy produced by hundreds of twinkling bulbs will help bring in customers.
Tampa's sign code says the computerized displays cannot change more than once every five minutes. The rule, one of several requirements that must be met to get a sign permit, is intended to decrease the distraction to drivers.
But many local businesses that have LED signs are not complying, according to city officials, who say they just don't have the resources to enforce the restrictions.
Tampa City Council members say they want to get tough with violators and have asked the city attorney to look into putting more teeth into enforcement of the rules.
"It's disturbing, but not surprising, that there has been a lack of compliance," Councilman John Dingfelder said. "Clearly, we should be enforcing these rules."
A recent inventory of electronic displays by Tampa's code enforcement division found only a handful of the 70 businesses that have the signs adhering to the five-minute rule.
The list of violators runs the gamut from several CVS and Walgreens drugstores to bank branches, restaurants, pawn shops, hotels, convenience stores and even churches.
What's more, government facilities - including the University of South Florida, Tampa Convention Center, the Museum of Science & Industry, and The Florida Aquarium - are exempt from the sign rules.
Jake Slater, director of code enforcement, said he doesn't have enough resources to crack down on every business that isn't complying with the sign restrictions.
"It's difficult, with only 20 inspectors on our staff, to have someone sit under one of these signs to see if it changes every five minutes," Slater said. "We don't have the resources."
Instead, the city sent letters to businesses on Jan. 12, asking them to comply.
Complicating enforcement is the fact that the sign rules are not included in Tampa's civil citation process, meaning the city can't fine the owners for noncompliance.
Dingfelder and other council members have asked City Attorney Chip Fletcher to look into expanding the civil citation process to include electronic sign code violations.
Dingfelder also wants to remove the exemption for government entities.
"I don't think the government should be exempt from that," he said. "It's not fair."
Some businesses said they have adjusted their signs since being contacted by the city.
A CVS corporate spokesman said the company is working to bring all of its Tampa stores into compliance with the five-minute sign rule.
"It's our policy to comply with local government rules," Michael DeAngelis said.
Don Reiss, general manager of the TGI Friday's restaurant on East Fowler Avenue, said the city never told him about the five-minute restriction when he had the electronic sign - which displays daily specials, events and other things - installed a few years ago.
He said he is complying with the rules, but he questions the city's sign restrictions.
"If you spend between $10,000 and $20,000 on a digital sign, you want to be able to use it to promote your business," Reiss said. "I think every five minutes is a little extreme."
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