Florida Keys News
Friday, March 29, 2013
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Law on signs will change

The city of Key West plans to revise its rules on business signs in the Historic District in an effort to break free from a "one size fits all" policy, an official said Thursday.

The process has only just started, said Rudy Molinet, chairmanof the Historic Architectural Review Commission, at a public workshop Thursday at Old City Hall.

"We are not a one-size-fits-all city," said Molinet, on the dais with HARC members and three members of the Planning Board. "Every block of this district is different with different needs."

Molinet said it could take a year for the city to hammer out a revised sign law.

Ideas that surfaced Thursday included dividing up Duval Street into different 'sections' with different guidelines, and perhaps allowing more neon light in the 'entertainment district' along Lower Duval.

Key West, with a nationally recognized Historic District that includes Duval, must follow federal guidelines that are incorporated into local law, said Assistant City Attorney Ron Ramsingh.

Though sparsely attended and quiet, the 1.5-hour workshop offered a glimpse of the ongoing debate between business owners and city staff when it comes to signs.

HARC spends the bulk of its time reviewing sign disputes. Recent dust-ups on the agenda have included the Coyote Ugly bar's red backlit sign on Duval Street, Vito's Piazza restaurant on White Street and the newly opened World of Beer joint on Greene Street.

Speakers on Thursday included two sign-makers and the owner of World of Beer, Craig Wynn, who each politely pleaded with HARC to consider that tailored signs can attract tourists and new customers.

"We're a tourist destination; our dollars come from these businesses being able to open and stay open," said Ron Johnston of Signs Unlimited. "It almost shoots ourselves in the foot if we don't take care of business owners."

HARC member Michael Miller, an architect, took issue with the argument that a sign determines economic success.

"Seems to me the success of a business has much more to do than just how loud the sign shouts," said Miller. "It's the reputation of the business, then there's also the type of merchandise and services being sold. Signage is not the end-all."

Wynn said his business on Greene Street, right outside Old City Hall's doors, should be included as part of Key West's "entertainment district."

His World of Beer sign came before HARC twice before winning approval.

Locals know his place, said Wynn, but he depends on tourist traffic for success.

"I want to see the revitalization of Greene Street, not just for my own business," said Wynn. "Obviously, illumination goes a long way. I want to drive business traffic. I want to see more people going down Greene Street. The sign I have right now at night is not very well illuminated, the way we did it."

Johnston brought up Vito's as an example of a neighborhood business that wouldn't harm Key West's historic fabric by being allowed some more neon.

"Obviously we don't want to turn into Vegas," said Johnston. "At the same time, a lighted sign across the street from this building at night I don't think is going to detract from this community."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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