By Phil Colpas
All those beach awards may be well deserved, but as Siesta Key beaches become more popular, concern is growing about how to best delineate proper signage to let visitors know where they are — and are not — allowed.
The Sarasota County Commission on Aug. 24 added a few details to a proposed ordinance that would provide some much-needed clarity for sign wielders by imposing limits on size, number of signs and types of signage allowed.
Darrel Peters was the only speaker to address the commission at this public hearing. Peters serves on the board of directors at Gulf & Bay Club, a condominium complex that is located on property immediately south of Siesta Public Beach.
“The proposed ordinance, we believe, arises out of a misunderstanding of the problem,” Peters told the commissioners. “The problem isn’t the flags or signs, the problem is the large numbers of people that are moving into the private beach property. Our property has become an extension of the public beach.”
In its more than 35-year history, Gulf & Bay didn’t mark its beach until October of last year, Peters said, “because the problem had grown so severe that we felt we had to do so. There are so many people trying to get to the shoreline — that’s where we all want to set up our gear — that it has become an impediment to our owners and guests having access to the shoreline.”
Gulf & Bay had its beach surveyed, and in the fall of 2020 began displaying signage at the property line separating its private beach from the public one just a few grains of sand away.
“We use sandwich boards and flags,” Peters said. “Each of our flags are 2×3 feet, and the sandwich boards are 6 square feet, the same dimensions as county signs on the public beach. The Gulf & Bay signs and flags are put up in the morning and taken down in the evening.”
Peters asked the commissioners to include flags in the sign ordinance. “Flags are easy to put up, they’re easy to take down, they’re not offensive and they’re effective,” he said.
Peters also requested that the signage be allowed to be a maximum of 6 square feet per sign, instead of 4 square feet.
Peters then showed commissioners a photo of the five flags and three sandwich board signs that Gulf & Bay sets up each morning along the approximately 300-foot-wide property line abutting the public beach. Even at 6 square feet, he said, the signage tends to get lost in the visual background clutter.
The county commissioners appeared impressed with Peters’ cogent presentation, essentially adapting his two suggestions into the proposed ordinance language.
But the larger subject matter at hand left at least one commissioner cold.
“Because of what happened in the panhandle, our natural resources no longer belong to everyone,” said County Commissioner Nancy Detert, referencing a 2017 federal court decision that limits how municipalities can restrict signage on private property.
“People do not get to walk on a beach just because the beach is there, anymore. They’re supposed to walk in the water. And it’s a sad day, I think. Now everybody’s staking out their territory, and we get to decide how big those signs will be … No matter what we do, there’s going to be people that don’t keep the rules. And then the other side is going to want more signs and … I don’t see it stopping, quite frankly.”
The proposed ordinance will increase the aggregate maximum sign area to 24 square feet and its area perimeter boundary to 6 square feet. Further, a sandwich board sign must be 2 feet wide by 3 feet high, and a flag must be equal to or less than 3 feet high.
Commissioners tasked staff with bringing back the revisions by the Sept. 28 board meeting.