SEBRING – Business owners spoke before the Sebring City Council meeting on Aug. 7 to express their concerns about proposed changes in the sign ordinance. They were concerned that the changes would negatively impact their businesses by decreasing sign visibility and costing them thousands of dollars to bring their current signs into compliance with the new code.

The Sebring City Council listened to the business owners and discussed how to best help them. “We want to be business friendly,” City Council President Charlie Lowrance said.

What proposed changes alarmed business owners? Owners were concerned about the requirement to set back any new permanent signs five feet from the front of the property line and five feet from the sides of the property line. This would have decreased the visibility of signs from the roadway.

In addition, business owners were also disgruntled about the proposed requirement to bring all current sign into code compliance in seven years. This would have forced them to move current signs back five feet from the front property line. Businesses would have been required to move large signs, spending thousands of dollars moving the signs from one location to another.

Chip Boring, broker and owner of RE/MAX Realty Plus, addressed the council. “My business is already considerably set back from the highway,” he said. “My sign has been there for 17 years. If I have to set my sign back, my sign will be obscured.” Boring was concerned that two buildings and trees from a southerly lot would block the visibility of his sign.

Ross Macbeth, an attorney, also spoke to the council about the hardships that he would face if the ordinance passed. “If I moved my sign, it would probably interfere with movement of traffic in my parking lot,” he said. “I will have to spend tens of thousands to replace a perfectly good sign. This won’t accomplish anything positive for sign owners.”

After hearing from the business owners, Council Member Lenard Carlisle said, “We don’t want to hurt anybody’s business or cost them money.” Lowrance and Stewart suggested cutting out the requirement for the setbacks from the language in the ordinance.

Council Member Scott Stanley agreed. “Do we have to have setbacks? Are setbacks truly necessary? It’s the setbacks that are causing the problem, right?”

Lowrance turned to City Attorney Bob Swaine, “Swaine, can you change the setbacks on this?”

Swaine replied, “Let’s get some input from Jennifer Codo-Salisbury.” Codo-Salisbury is the deputy director of the Central Florida Regional Planning Council.

Codo-Salisbury said, “I don’t see an issue with removing the setbacks. There’s not an issue with it. In the CRA and historic district, this makes sense.”

The council decided to approve the first reading of the amended sign ordinance, but they deleted references to front and side setbacks. With this requirement deleted, businesses would no longer have to bring their signs into compliance or set them back from the property line.

Codo-Salisbury provided additional clarification the next day. “Last evening [Aug. 7] was first reading for Ordinance 1426 in which the City Council voted to remove all proposed setback requirements for any permanent signs. The council also voted to remove all proposed separation requirements between signs. The ordinances have not been adopted, so they are still in draft form.”

When asked how he felt about the changes made to the proposed sign ordinance, Chip Boring said, “I’m tickled to death.” The council mentioned that they wished there had been more input from business owners at the workshops, he said. However, when he became aware of the meeting, he spoke up about his concerns and the City Council listened.

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