On Monday, Cape Coral City Council will consider a new sign regulation ordinance that would standardize allowable signage throughout the city's various commercial areas. It also addresses some safety concerns expressed by the Cape Coral Police Department and the city's risk management team as well as some legal issues with the existing codes.
The ordinance, more than two years in the making, is intended, as well, to improve aesthetics by reining in the "Wild West," "anything-goes" atmosphere proponents say has prevailed since the city implemented and extended - and extended - an enforcement moratorium for non-compliant signs in the downtown business district that pretty much then was applied citywide.
For the most part, it's a good proposal. We thank Councilmember Marty McClain, who is the ordinance sponsor, staff, and the members of the business community for their collective efforts.
But like numerous members of the business community - those actually reliant on signage to keep the doors open, the bills paid and workers employed - we have some issues with portions of the measure.
We also question its timing.
The Cape Coral-Fort Myers area is ranked among the 10 worst "metros" in the country for families going hungry. We're third. We're sixth in terms of "suburban poverty," with 18.6 percent of families at or below the poverty line. We're again second in foreclosures, after dropping from first three months in a row. Unemployment remains untenably high.
Is now the time to make things like the elimination of A-frame signs, the regulation of employed sign wavers and the implementation of a new regulation restricting window coverage to 30 percent a prime priority?
Like a majority of businesses responding to a Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral survey on the matter, like a number of small business owners in the city's downtown Community Redevelopment Agency district, we think not.
Now we do understand that those A-frame signs we have seen everywhere for years have never actually been permitted. We understand that the city is proposing to be extremely generous with most non-compliant signs, giving existing business owners 10 years to come into full compliance with things like the controversial window coverage restriction. We understand that some provisions, like those for electric signage, would be a business benefit for those who can afford it.
Our concerns very specifically are with small downtown and "strip mall" businesses struggling to stay open and with new businesses looking to come in and fill some of the Cape's innumerable empty storefronts.
Bluntly put, we worry a lot more about the Cape's abysmal occupancy rates than whether the city should ban wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men.
The question is: Is the problem with signage so bad that the city needs to immediately enact and/or newly enforce restrictions a majority of businesses in that chamber survey say will negatively affect their ability to do business?
If so, what has changed?
It certainly isn't the business climate.
Table this measure for now or, at minimum, address its most troubling provisions, including the A-frame signs, "feather" banners restrictions, and the window signage limitation.
We see no urgency here.
- Breeze editorial