Miami ducking decision on illuminated signs
Written by John Charles Robbins on March 26, 2014
More than two years in the making, a new and improved sign ordinance is headed for adoption by the Miami City Commission.
And while the commission approved the first reading of the new sign rules March 13, it put off a decision on one of the most controversial aspects having to do with illuminated signs, including LED signs.
Francisco Garcia, planning director, said the long process to amend the sign rules was done in tandem with the community. Many meetings in the past two years involved representatives from the sign industry, attorneys, building officials, advocates and other stakeholders.
The work was comprehensive, he said.
The new ordinance is designed to be shorter, clearer and “much more user friendly,” Mr. Garcia said.
David Snow, a city planner who led the project to rewrite the ordinance, presented highlights to commissioners.
The planning staff, he said, began by looking at industry standards across the country, across the state and in neighboring municipalities.
Planners reviewed the sign rules for Miami-Dade County and the cities of North Miami, Doral, Coral Gables, Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, Palm Beach, Clearwater and Jacksonville. Staff also reviewed sign ordinances from Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta.
Mr. Snow said they met with business owners, citizens and sign makers. They had workshops with the Planning, Zoning Appeals Board.
The proposed ordinance employs charts, graphs and illustrations that offer a clearer explanation of sign requirements, he said.
“It’s easier to understand, for design professionals to the average business owner,” Mr. Snow said.
The proposed ordinance would eventually get rid of all free-standing signs in favor of monument signs, which planners view as “more urban,” and “it looks better all around,” said Mr. Snow.
Mr. Garcia said he recommended adoption of the new rules, and the Planning, Zoning Appeals Board recommended approval. He said everyone can benefit from a better organized and structured sign ordinance.
Mr. Garcia stressed the changes don’t cover wall murals or billboards, which fall under a separate ordinance.
But that didn’t stop some in the audience from speaking out against billboards, while also lambasting the often glaringly bright LED signs scattered around the city.
Nathan Kurland said the “flashing mess” of LED signs threatens to ruin the area’s tropical beauty, and even stricter rules are needed to regulate the brightness of LEDs.
Some of the larger LED billboards can be seen up to 27 miles away, he said.
Mr. Kurland also said illegal billboards should be removed immediately at the owners’ expense.
“We have enough illegal signage,” said Nancy Liebman of the MiMo Boulevard Association. She suggested neon lights instead of LED signs.
Ms. Liebman suggested the city’s historic preservation board be involved in any talks about illuminated signage, especially considering the ongoing efforts to resurrect old motels, which relied on neon signs in the past.
Bob Powers also spoke in favor of neon lighting over LED-type signs. “Neon is much more palatable to the eye,” he said.
Peter Ehrlich Jr., representing Scenic Miami, said the group isn’t opposed to the basic aspects of the proposed ordinance. However, the group strenuously opposes electronic message signs.
They are “damning and offensive,” he said.
Commissioner Francis Suarez commended the planning staff for its work on the sign ordinance.
“I support this effort. I believe it will make signs better looking,” said Mr. Suarez, who suggested leaving illuminated sign rules for another day.
The city has illuminated signs “all over the place,” he said, and they’re “a mess” and “ugly.”
Commissioner Keon Hardeman agreed to set aside the rules governing illuminated signs for a later debate. “I want to tackle that head on,” he said.
Mr. Hardeman spoke of one LED sign in Miami Springs that was so bright “it shocked me.” Illuminated signs certainly get your attention, he said, but with motorists taking their eyes off the road it becomes “a huge safety issue.”
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff mentioned two LED-type signs along northbound US 1 near Coconut Grove, one touting the results of cosmetic surgery. He asked if those illuminated signs are legal.
“It is my contention they are not,” said Mr. Garcia.
Mr. Sarnoff asked if the planning department has done anything about those signs. Mr. Garcia said it has worked with code enforcement on them.
Mr. Sarnoff asked Mr. Garcia to report back to the commission on the extent of enforcement efforts regarding those two signs.
Commissioner Frank Carollo said “it’s selective enforcement,” a point he was trying to make earlier this year when commissioners debated removal efforts on a mural along I-95.
Mr. Garcia noted that the current sign ordinance prohibits flashing and animated signs.