The city of Cape Coral is again looking at its sign ordinance with new regulations targeting both sign-wavers on public rights-of-way and the amount of signage in windows - something many small businesses, especially those in the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency district, say could force them to move or go out of business.
Those business owners wasted little time in expressing their dismay Monday, starting with public input before the measure even reached the formal discussion point on the City Council agenda.
"The entrance to my business is in the back, and I need A-frame signs so people can find me," said Trisha Campbell, owner of Best Pets pet groomers. "Why is it all or nothing? Small businesses have limited budgets."
"Without an A-frame sign they can't find us. My landlord is great, but he just sent $2,000 renovating and doesn't want a marquis in front of the building," said Nicole Kane, owner of Dog Days Delight, a pet daycare.
The quandary for business owners is that A-frame signs are not currently permitted and they will continue to be prohibited under the new ordinance which, officials say isn't all that different from the existing one save for a few changes.
What will be different, however, is the new measure will be more strictly enforced with its main focus being to "reduce blight."
When the ordinance was introduced, Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz suggested that since it is complex, it would be more beneficial to "workshop" it on Sept. 23 before public input.
"It looks bad when we have all these signs out there, but that lady has a business access that's unusual," Chulakes-Leetz said.
Mayor John Sullivan agreed that a "one-size-fits-all" approach is not the way to go.
"I'm willing sit through whatever we have to in order to get information. There are too many situations that are unique," Sullivan said. "We need to listen to area businesses and take heed."
Councilmember Marty McClain, who has worked on this ordinance for two years, said the original plan was good enough for him, having seen more of it than he cared to discuss.
"In the last six years they've taken on a life of their own. We have these feather banners and it looks like a circus," McClain said. "It's hard to have an ordinance and not enforce it."
Councilmember Kevin McGrail motioned to workshop the ordinance, but it failed 5-3. It was pointed out that any council member can ask for any agenda item and, if the issue gets too heated or complex on Sept. 30, council can table it.
If approved sign-wavers will no longer be allowed on public rights-of-way, including sidewalks, only on the businesses property.
A-frame signs also would be prohibited as they have always been, and "feather banners" would be limited to limited to one per business, and displayed only for a three-week interval four times a year.
The problem is there are different levels of understanding, which could change the meaning of things, according to Joe Mazurkewicz, Cape Coral's former mayor and facilitator of this action.
"There is laymen's, staff and legal understanding, staff understanding. What I said at the stakeholder's meeting may have changed since the attorney and staff got together," Mazurkewicz said. "There are only a couple issues regarding the coverage of windows."
The issue is enforcement and that could be a big problem in the CRA district, one that council will really have to consider.
"We're looking at aesthetics, but also that 75 percent of the businesses in the CRA are renting," McGrail said. "If this ordinance is so restrictive, they'll go find a space somewhere else. The last thing we need is more empty storefronts."