If you’ve taken a stroll along the west side of North Woodland Boulevard in Downtown DeLand, the flashy display made up of nine big-screen televisions inside the window of Wholesale Computer Outlet probably caught your eye.
The display reflects the type of modern, high-tech gadgets sold in the shop, but owner John Martineau said city officials have been insisting he remove the display to make his storefront strictly conform to the historic style of much of the rest of Downtown DeLand.
The city first contacted Martineau in October, and told him the large-screen displays and neon lighting in his window violated Downtown DeLand’s sign code.
DeLand has a strict sign ordinance, which has caused some consternation with business owners around the city. Its rules are even stricter in the “historic district overlay” area, which covers most of Downtown DeLand.
“They’re calling it an illuminated sign,” Martineau said. “I call it products that I sell in my store.”
Signs in Downtown DeLand typically need to look historic.
According to city code, the signs generally need to be made only of “wood or other appropriate material that is compatible with the historic character of the building,” and their colors must be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Board.
“Internally lighted signs” are also prohibited, though a sign may be lit up through other means.
Animated electronic signs are prohibited throughout the city — not just in Downtown DeLand, according to Community Development Director Rick Werbiskis.
The city’s code allows two types of electronic signs explicitly: “time-date-temperature” signs, as sometimes seen on banks, and “electronic message center” signs that can change no more than once per day.
But Martineau doesn’t consider the display, which sits inside his building’s window, a sign at all.
“I’ve always had TVs that have been inside of my windows,” Martineau said. “That particular set, I’ve had up for a year now.”
Even if the city is going to consider the display a sign, Martineau thinks officials should be more open to the use of modern technology, even in DeLand’s historic central district.
Martineau said a couple of other businesses Downtown use electronic signage, as well.
He’s started an online petition asking the city to change its sign code to allow for illuminated signs and neon inside shop windows.
“[The] current code is outdated and is not permitting business owners to utilize the technology that is now available,” the petition reads in part.
Martineau’s case goes before a special magistrate Thursday, Jan. 23. If the magistrate determines his signs do indeed violate city code, his business could be fined up to $250 per day until he takes down the offending signs.
Werbiskis said the city has since decided not to go after Wholesale Computer Outlet for the neon inside the windows, but it still has a gripe about the big-screen displays.
“The neon border, that’s probably OK because it is located within the window,” Werbiskis said. “Apparently he’s had that in place for many, many years, so we are not pursuing any enforcement right now.”
The city’s sign code exempts “signs appearing in or on the surface of the window,” as long as they don’t cover more than 25 percent of the window area. Such signs in windows of businesses inside the historic overlay district, however, require approval from city staff.
Werbiskis said he doesn’t believe the city’s sign rules are overly harsh; he said the rules protect the character of the city and Downtown DeLand.
“I don’t believe it’s overly restrictive, but it does get more restrictive [in the Downtown area] only because of our unique character of our Downtown,” he said. “It’s a vital and important part of economic vitality for our city.”