110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Dispute over sign prompts strong public reaction
By Jen Horton
posted Oct 23, 2013 - 12:03:24pm
It's hard to make a living, and a little extra help can go a long way.
For Pat Johnson, owner of Pompano Pat's Motorcycles at 2075 South U.S. Highway 17-92 in DeLand, that extra help was advertising with a wind sign — a long, skinny flag he put up at his dealership.
Johnson said attention-getting advertising is critical to his small business.
"There is no longer enough gross per-capita income to keep this many dealerships alive in DeLand," Johnson said. "We have to bring people in from other areas."
If folks from other areas don't see his dealership, if he doesn't stand out in some way, those people will drive right on by and stop at another business, Johnson said.
When a City of DeLand code-enforcement officer told him he had to move the wind sign or face a $250-per-day fine, Johnson said he'd had enough. The problem, the city said, was that the sign had been installed in the public right of way. Further, wind signs may be used only temporarily and must be registered with the city. Johnson’s wasn’t.
Johnson said the city just doesn't seem to care about small businesses.
He rearranged the placard on his permanent business sign to advertise his feelings.
"City of DeLand is not a small business friendly town," it read.
"I just don't think the public is aware of what small businesses go through just to open their doors," Johnson said.
Johnson has tangled with the city several times over rules and restrictions he feels are smothering to a new business.
"My building is even the color gray that they dictated," Johnson said.
Johnson said when he once questioned the city about what he believed was an unfair assessment of a code violation, he was visited the next day — and other code problems were discovered.
"The mafia works quite similarly," he said. "I felt like I was being told to shut up, or else. It was intimidation."
Johnson said his shop has five full-time employees and one part-time employee.
He said maybe it is time to take his business, and his revenue, elsewhere.
"I'm really over it. I am thinking about relocating," Johnson said. "I've never seen a town so backwards in my life in the way it treats small business, and I've had stores from Jacksonville to Daytona."
Does the city have a problem with small business?
"No," Assistant City Manager Dale Arrington said.
Code enforcement responds to complaints, she said, and calls had come in about illegal signage on U.S. Highway 17-92, where Pompano Pat’s is located.
"We received a large number of complaints about illegal signs on 17-92," Arrington said.
In addition to visiting Pompano Pat’s, DeLand's code-enforcement officer gave written warnings to 11 other businesses about city sign-law violations.
Arrington said the city created less-restrictive sign rules several years ago, based on sit-downs with local automobile dealerships. In some cases, she said, special regulations were crafted just to accommodate certain types of signs the dealers said they needed.
"We had tried to be flexible with this when we created the ordinances," Arrington said.
The city is required to make sure property owners are using temporary signs the way they're supposed to.
DeLand requires businesses to register temporary signs. There is no cost to register. The registration enables city staff to make sure the ordinances are being enforced fairly, and to respond to complaints. If a temporary sign is registered, and a complaint comes in, city staff can tell the caller the sign is legitimate.
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