Marco Island City Council rejects divisive sign ordinance

Lisa Conley
Marco Eagle

The Marco Island City Council met Monday night and rejected a divisive sign ordinance that would affect real estate firms, builders and commercial establishments.

City of Marco Island Government Center sign.

The sign ordinance revision was spurred by Reed vs. the Town of Gilbert, Ariz., a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court and upended the way that signs are regulated in this country.

The town’s ordinance, which granted various sizes to political candidates’ signs, “ideological” signs and event signs advertising a specific event, was found to be unconstitutional.

More:‘Signs’ of future discussions: Planning Board reviews city's sign ordinance

Kathy Mahaffey, attorney with Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Cole & Bierman, presented the new sign ordinance to the council and explained the nuances of the it.

Signage can be regulated based on where it stands, with different standards for public and private property, commercial vs. residential areas and on-premises as opposed to off-premises signs. Discretion is limited, and using any discretion hurts the city’s chance of prevailing in any potential litigation, Mahaffey said. Any content-based discrimination is extremely problematic.

Bob Brown

Councilman Bob Brown called the ordinance "ridiculous," and said it's a prime example of government overreach.

"It's ridiculous," he said. "Looking and reading this, it's totally impossible. I can't imagine what our departments are going to have to go through to jump through hoops to take care of something like this."

Councilman Rios agreed.

“It’s about three times the size of the U.S. Constitution,” he said. “Do we really need that much verbiage to put up a sign?”

Chairman Jared Grifoni reminded the council that the city must change its current sign ordinance in order to be compliant with the Supreme Court's ruling in Reed vs. the Town of Gilbert, Ariz. 

"The fact that it's coming from the Supreme Court is lost on a lot of folks," Grifoni said. "We had to change this and if we didn't, the length of this ordinance is going to be a lot shorter than the length of the litigation documents that everyone's going to have to read ... if we don't enforce it or we enforce what existed someone files a lawsuit.

"So I know that the changes can be a little bit difficult," he continued, "but it has to be done."

Councilman Joe Batte questioned whether the council should even be discussing the ordinance since the Planning Board has yet to vote on it.

Joe Batte

"I really can't understand why we're doing all this commenting on an issue that's in front of the Planning Board," he said. "What's going on? Maybe some of you ought to join the Planning Board?" he told his fellow councilors. "I don't want to steer (the Planning Board) in a certain direction and that's what we're doing."

Councilman Larry Honig agreed.

"I take this job quite seriously ... but I did not do my homework," he said, admitting that he hasn't read the ordinance. "And I didn't do it on purpose because it's not a finished product. I said to myself, I'll wait until the Planning Board is finished."

The ordinance failed 6-1 and will appear before the Planning Board at a future meeting.

In other business

Council approved the language of the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (COPCN) referendum, which will be on the August 2018 ballot. The referendum now reads:

"Collier County currently controls EMS paramedic and Ambulance services on Marco Island. Should the City of Marco Island replace Collier County services and provide locally controlled and operated enhanced paramedic and expanded emergency medical ambulance services allowing the City's Fire Rescue Department to deliver EMS and Ambulance services and provide appropriate annual funding based on actual city costs for these services at an initial rate of $___ per ___ of taxable property value?"

Council approved the language 4-3.

More:Marco City Council debates COPCN referendum language

More:3 To Know: Local COPCN bill passes both state chambers

Council also unanimously approved hiring three additional Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) officers to "augment and strengthen coverage of Marco Island public schools located within the Marco Island police district" at the cost of approximately $300,000.

The councilors recognized MIPD Sgt. Hector Diaz for "outstanding service in the line of duty." On Feb. 26 Diaz performed live-saving CPR on a resident who had fallen off his bicycle and was not breathing.

City Council's next meeting is 5:30 p.m. April 2 in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.

Police Sgt. Hector Diaz receives the 2014 Police Officer of the Year award Thursday presented by the Marco Island Police Foundation at the Hideaway Beach Club. With Diaz is his wife, Christine, and daughter Danielle Pipitone.

Correspondent Lance Shearer contributed to this article.