Florida Keys News
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Captains question new policy on bight business signs

The historic Key West Bight Marina must remain "funky," but perhaps the newly tweaked policy on signs could use a little leeway, a group of charter boat captains and city leaders agreed at a public meeting Wednesday night.

For now, though, the captains and fishing guides who work for hire at the city-owned marina must conform to the new policy recently approved by both the Key West Bight Management Board and the Historic Architectural Review Commission (HARC), according to city staff.

"It gives the city the ability to say, 'No, you can't have a television on top of your sign that is constantly running,'" said City Planner Don Craig. "That's not an allowed sign."

Saying the commercial seaport needs clarity and order, the bight board on April 11 installed a specific plan that allows only two signs -- and one can be no larger than 16-by-24 inches, while other no bigger than 8-by-20 inches -- affixed to a city-chosen cedar post.

The larger sign may advertise the name, logo, phone number and website of the business, while the smaller one can describe the services offered, the bight board agreed unanimously.

In addition to the bight policy, the seaport's 55 commercial charter companies must also obtain approval from HARC.

Enforcement is on its way, said Craig. Signs that don't conform to the new plan will get written warnings and a seven-day grace period to comply. After seven days, city workers will remove the offending sign, storing it for up to 30 days, the bight board's policy says.

"There's no grandfathering," Craig said after the 1½-hour workshop meeting of the bight board and HARC at Old City Hall.

But while everyone who spoke Wednesday night kept returning to the word "funky" as a good thing for the seaport, Craig reminded them that like "art," the funky adjective means different things to different people.

Michael Miller, a Key West architect and member of HARC, cautioned the crowd to veer away from "funky" as a definition of the island's approach to historic preservation.

"Key West is enjoyed for its diversity," said Miller. "I'd rather see 'diverse' signs."

Bight board Chairman Michael Knowles, who runs a local resort, was the lone holdout on the city's side of the conversation, saying the new policy has been a long time coming.

"The feedback I get is that it's getting pretty junky," Knowles said of the bight. "The tourists who come to this town pay our bills."

Several captains said while they weren't opposed to more uniform signs, they suggested the bight board provide more options.

"One-size, one-application does not fit every single vessel," said Steve Talbott, owner of the BLU Q catamaran that has docked at the bight for 17 years. "We would like to see someone come to the middle ground."

Talbott said he liked the new sign design, but questioned whether the cedar posts could withstand hurricane season.

"We love our old signs; they are really classic looking," said Moe Mottice, owner of the fishing charters Reel Lucky and Reel Lucky Too. "Our idea is just to get the people down to us. We have been closed off on some of the walkways."

Former Assistant City Manager John Jones drew cheers from the boat captains, who made up most of the 18 or so attendees in addition to the City Commission-appointed HARC and bight board members.

"We want the thing to be a historic seaport, but we do have to obey the safety rules," said Jones.

Jones also acknowledged that during his recent tenure, under former City Manager Julio Avael, he didn't enforce Key West's sign rules and regulations.

"I'm probably personally responsible for a lot of these signs," Jones told the crowd. "We wanted it to look like a historic seaport. I didn't give a hoot then about the code. We didn't enforce any rules at that time. They can't do anything to me now because I'm retired."

The bight board, which manages the seaport on behalf of the City Commission, should do everything it can to help the charters increase revenue, he added.

"You don't want to look like Duval Street, do you?" Jones asked, drawing a round of applause from the sparse audience.

HARC is a great group, he said, calling it the "sign board."

"But they don't know how to run a seaport," said Jones.

"You know how to run a seaport," he said, addressing the captains.

Rudy Molinet, a real estate agent who chairs HARC, pointed out several times that the new policy was created by the bight board, not HARC, which simply approved it.

HARC merely enforces the city's guidelines, which impose strict rules in any Key West historic district.

The bight board applied for HARC approval this year, just as any property manager or owner does.

The captains at the meeting were even-keeled, but other fishermen have more vociferously complained. They have said the city's property manager is behind the decisions about signs and code enforcement at the bight, to Key West's peril.

At one point Wednesday, Craig compared the bight board to the owners of a "shopping center," drawing raised eyebrows.

"A bad choice of words," said Molinet.


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