Sign ordinance evolves with discussion

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — The sign ordinance is a document that will have ramifications — hopefully positive rather than restrictive — on how the Town of Naples will look and how the local businesses are able to advertise on their property.

The proposed Naples Sign Ordinance (SO) will not be on the ballot this November — absolutely not.

Only time will tell whether or not it appears at the town meeting in June.

The required public hearing for the Naples SO has yet to be scheduled.

Still ahead, there are numerous steps and plenty of re-edits to an ordinance that has taken more than a year before the Ordinance Review Committee (ORC).

On Tuesday, a joint workshop of the Naples Board of Selectmen, the Naples Planning Board and the ORC was held to review what is on paper so far.

Topics ranged greatly: how many types of signs end up making a business front look more cluttered than inviting; if a sign is taken down because of repair needs or change of ownership, it must adhere to the standards of a new sign ordinance — if that is passed by town residents; are digital signs advantageous over the back-lit signs currently being used; and where in town do residents want digital signs prohibited.

Another interesting suggestion made by Naples Chairman Jim Grattelo was: Would the public be willing to phase out signs that were “grandfathered in” to accomplish the goal of keeping Naples’ visual appeal.

Toward the end of the almost two-hour discussion, Grattelo summed up the SO.

“The Sign Ordinance has done one thing: it has created the conversation of how we want our downtown to look like,” Grattelo said.

The ORC Chairman Skip Meeker had an intimate relationship with the proposed Sign Ordinance and recalled the drafting of the original one.

“The old Sign Ordinance deals with free-standing signs. It was a very simple two-page document. The reason it was kept to two pages is: it just grew and grew and we couldn’t find anything that fit Naples. So it was free-standing signs only,” Meeker said.

“The new one has tried to encompass not only size but places in town: the Commercial District, the Village District, and the Causeway District. That was step one,” he said. “Step two was the different types of signs: Banners, flags, reader boards…”

“We tried to touch on everything we could, which is exactly the opposite as the first one,” he said. “It is the worst thing we ever did.”

Certainly, it was a labor of love or just laborious as many ORC members pointed out.

Additionally, the committee and town’s code enforcement officer stepped back and waited to see how a sign-related Supreme Court case would pan out.

According to Code Enforcement Officer Renee Carter, “We tried to avoid what people put on their signs at all.”

Part of Tuesday night’s discussion danced around digital signs, backlit signs and keeping a dark night sky versus allowing businesses on the Causeway and in the Village District to advertise throughout the night.

Everyone agreed that the Naples Comprehensive Plan should and would play a part in shaping the Sign Ordinance.

This point was brought up by resident Jon March, who had rewritten the objective or mission statement of the SO for the committees and CEO to include in the ordinance.

Meeker said the old Sign Ordinance was a one-size-fits-all approach. The world of signs has changed, he said. The reader board is a dinosaur, he said. Most people don’t need massive signs to locate a business since that information is accessible through cell phones, he said.

Another point is that municipal signs are exempt from the SO rules; therefore, the Town Hall could have an electronic sign at the Village Green.

CEO Carter said many residents have told her they would have known about meetings or voting or sports registration if there had been a sign near the road in front of the Town Hall property. Those folks don’t always look at the Fire Station’s digital sign for that type of information, Carter said.

A copy of the proposed Naples Sign Ordinance, which received more edits on Tuesday night, is available on the town’s website. To watch the meeting in its entirety, go the Lake Region Television’s webpage or consult the Cable TV listing for times meeting is replayed.

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