Revised ordinance on murals gets narrow commission OK
By Wayne Tompkins
Miami-Dade commissioners Tuesday narrowly passed regulations governing huge mural advertisements like those on the sides of downtown Miami buildings. The vote came over the objections of members who complained that the measure isn't tough enough or are skeptical as to how well they will be enforced.
The resolution, passed 7-5, modifies an ordinance commissioners approved in April. It expands the enforcement area to include areas near downtown where both zoning and aesthetics are similar to those in the downtown core, raises from 30 to 45 the number of murals that will be permitted in the zone and sets $1,000-a-day fines to both the advertising agency and the owner of the property on which an illegal mural is displayed.
No sign can be less than 200 feet from an area zoned for single-family homes, an increase from 100 feet, and a mural can cover a building's windows if it is transparent and doesn't prevent the window from being opened.
"We raised the penalty so that we have the proper tools to stop the illegal proliferation of murals not only within the city but countywide," said commission chairman Bruno Barreiro, who sponsored both the original and the modified ordinance.
The number of permitted murals was raised because within an expanded boundary, "you can fit more in. But it's not a huge increase," Mr. Barreiro said.
For repeat offenders, "we are basically telling our attorneys to go after them legally."
Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who has made stopping the proliferation of billboards and murals in the county a crusade, was among the commissioners unhappy with the changes made Tuesday.
"We passed a mural ordinance a month ago, and now we want to expand the area, the number of walls and the number of wall signs allowed and allow them to cover windows — not just blank walls but now windows," Ms. Sorenson said. "They're still proliferating in areas where they are not allowed. Are we ever going to enforce any of this, even if we have the ordinance?"
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez also opposed the measure. He had asked for fines of $5,000 a day, although that is far above current state limits.
"We just passed a month ago an ordinance allowing murals in a certain area and 30 of them," he said. "Before we go ahead and expand the area, let's see how it works in a smaller area. Miami has said it doesn't want an expansion."
Mr. Barreiro said the new ordinance is tougher than the original one because it raises penalties from $500 to $1,000 a day, "which hopefully will deter all the illegal signs outside the zones. It's a vital portion of the enforcement."
While saying he had no problem with "aesthetically pleasing" mural ads, Commissioner Dennis Moss said he hoped the fines would be enough of a deterrent to not be dismissed by property owners and advertising agencies as simply the price of doing business. Mr. Barreiro said he believes it does.
"This penalty will be a significant deterrent and will give us a long needed tool to do enforcement," Assistant County Manager Roger Carlton said. "If it doesn't work and it's not enough, we can certainly ask you to raise (the fines) some more. It's a much better tool than we have today."
New citations can be issued to violators every 30 days. If the violation continues, the county can file a civil injunction, which has happened in some billboard cases.
"I just hope we will make a lot of money on all the fines that we are going to be getting," Ms. Sorenson said, expressing doubts that the ordinance will be effective.
Commissioners Gimenez, Sorenson, Barbara Jordan, Audrey Edmonson and Rebeca Sosa voted against the measure. Commissioner Sally Heyman was absent.