The stricter enforcement of Apalachicola’s rules against posting signs outside of the premises of a business or facility has angered some within the city.
And one of the most prominent of those who are upset are people in the physical condition to wrestle with the issue.
Stephen Dykes, who manages the Forgotten Coast Fitness & Wellness Center, a non-profit fitness and training center at the former Apalachicola High School, said the city has told him a sign they placed on a fence at the Apalachicola Bay Charter School must be taken down, or it will be removed.
Dykes said that because the fitness center is off the beaten path, on Coach Wagoner Boulevard in a wing of the city municipal complex, many residents and visitors are not aware of where it is.
And so, to increase traffic the center got permission from the ABC School to place a sign at the corner of 14th Street and U.S. 98, on the school’s fencing at that intersection. The sign has a directional arrow that indicates the center is on 14th Street, which turns into Coach Wagoner Blvd. for a stretch.
But the fact the sign is a good distance away from the fitness center, its placement runs afoul of the city’s off-premise sign rules, which prohibit any such signs, whether on private or public property.
P. J. Erwin, the city’s code enforcement officer, said both the current and newly revised sign ordinance has prohibited such signs, although some that preceded the original ordinance have been grandfathered in.
“The amended ordinance was passed with its second reading at the Oct. 3 meeting of the city commission and there was discussion specifically about off-premise signs during the process of deliberation about amending the sign ordinance,” she wrote in an email. “I don’t recall any commissioner raising any issue about not retaining that prohibition.”
She said that every two or three weeks she drives through the city to see if there have been any violations.
“Usually the violations are the kind of signs that people place along the roadside, or balloon/flag signs,” Erwin said. “Sometimes I notice violations in my regular workday.”
She said in the event she sees one, she tries to contact the sign’s owner to go over what the city rules say, “I talk with them about what they can do, perhaps placing them outside the city at the entrance into the city,” Erwin said.
“I ask them to remove the signs and give them a date to remove them,” she said. “If they don’t remove them, then I pick them up.”
Erwin said that a repeat violation of the ordinance can trigger a Notice of Violation, which the city code states is a $250 fine for a first offense and a $400 fine for repeated offense.
“Once fined, every day is considered a repeated offense,” she said. “If a fine is imposed, someone then has the option to appeal with the clerk of court.”
Erwin estimated that she has removed 30 signs since she was hired in the spring.
“The fitness center sign is an off-premise sign. That’s the basis for my conversation with them and request to remove it,” she said. “It is also a temporary sign, which is not allowed. I did not pursue that issue with them.
“I have had other people upset with me, but all have complied,” Erwin said.
The sign was removed on Thursday morning, Nov. 16 by City Manager Travis Wade, as per the timeframe Erwin had shared with the gym.
Wade said he talked some time ago with several members of the gym’s board of directors, including chairman Melvin Myers, that the sign on U.S. 98 would not be permitted by code enforcement and that they could challenge the decision if they wished through the proper channels.
“This is something they were told they couldn’t do a year ago,” Wade said. “They were told that and they said they weren’t gonna do it.”
He said Dykes may not have been aware of the conversation that city officials had a year ago with gym leaders.
“I had that conversation, that they would not be in compliance,” Wade said.