After more than a year, Wilton Manors commissioners approved changes to the city’s sign code and officially approved the use of neon signs by businesses. The vote was 4-1 at the July 25 commission meeting with Commission Scott Newton dissenting.
Previously, the use of neon had been prohibited by the city but officials did not enforce the rule.
In an effort to be business friendly but also keep the number of neon signs from getting out of hand, the city will allow one neon sign every 10 feet of frontage and a maximum of four neon signs per business location. Each business location will also be allowed to have a minimum of one neon sign if they don’t have at least 10 feet of frontage.
“I don’t know how many times you need to say Corona,” said Commissioner Tom Green at a previous meeting.
Confusion and disagreement contributed to the vote’s delay and commissioners took more time during the July 25 meeting before finally agreeing and making sure they were clear about the sign code.
They wanted to ensure there would be no ambiguity in how it is interpreted by the public and by business owners. “You’re going to have to enforce this,” said Mayor Gary Resnick to Code Compliance Supervisor Julio Davila. “I don’t want to come back in a year because someone’s suing us,” said Commissioner Scott Newton.
Commissioners debated whether the limit on signs should be based on the amount of window space or total building frontage. Newton suggested frontage because he said it wouldn’t be fair to business owners with a small amount of window space. Those with more window space would have more of an opportunity for more signs. “I don’t like punishing a business for their construction choice,” said Vice Mayor Justin Flippen.
“It should be frontage,” said business owner Nick Berry. Berry has consistently spoken out in favor of allowing neon signs because, he said, they attract customers.
Commissioners also debated how much oversight they should have over city staff on this issue. “I don’t like second-guessing staff,” Resnick said. “I’m just tired of hearing that,” responded Newton. He said that it was the job of the elected officials to “do our due diligence” and make sure they agree with what is being proposed by city staff. “That’s why we’re up here.”
Although the new regulation is now in place, Davila said there would be an unspecified amount of time allowed for the city to educate businesses on the changes to the regulation. After that, the city will begin enforcement.
Berry commended the city on its code enforcement approach. “They are educating businesses peacefully, civilly. They’re not taking a hard approach.”
Over the next several months, officials say they plan on making changes to other parts of the city’s sign code, including addressing non-illuminated window signs.
One sticking point is the Dairy Queen on Wilton Drive. Some commissioners think the ice cream purveyor has too many signs in its windows. “The devil’s in the details. I wouldn’t support the amount of signs. I think it’s ridiculous,” said Resnick at a previous meeting. “They have a unique situation,” Green said.
The unique situation is that Dairy Queen owner Lynn Lawrence said the signs are important for business. When a sign displaying a certain item isn’t available for customers to see, she said, many don’t order the item. “We want to make sure this unique situation gets addressed,” said Commissioner Julie Carson.