The Forgotten Coast Fitness Center at the city municipal complex building is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, and until 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]
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Off premise sign rule rankles gym

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.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

One Comment

  1. We have had an ongoing issue with the sign ordinance and the city. Businesses in the Bowery District (especially on Water St) in Apalachicola are routinely ignored or overlooked by Apalach visitors due to lack of signage and derelict city buildings on Water St. that deter visitors from venturing beyond Avenue E.
    Repeated inquiries and discussions with City Manager, Commissioners etc about better signage for Bowery District businesses resulted after months of discussion in two totally inadequate signs easily mistaken for NO PARKING SIGNS with nothing but the black City Logo and a misleading arrow pointing in both directions and saying “more Merchants”…no one we have mentioned them to has ever even noticed them…..
    (Prior to this we had permission from four private property owners to locate signs that directed visitors to our business in the Bowery District and daily had folks tell us they would never have found us without seeing our signs!)

    We also received repeated empty promises that the derelict Fire Station would SOON be demolished and become a parking lot ( how many years now????) Which somehow they surmise will increase business…..( We should live so long!!!)
    The city needs to be more amenable to supporting and promoting small local businesses and non profits who have been
    the backbone of our local economy until recently.
    There has been no effort by the city to adequately address this issue for way too long.
    Other cities our size ( Port St Joe for example ) have managed to incorporate user friendly signage for every downtown business that is attractive and inexpensive on every corner and clearly indicates what businesses exist on any given block.
    Neither the City nor the Chamber of Commerce have shown any significant interest in promoting or encouraging businesses off the beaten path in Apalachicola. …We totally understand and share the frustrations that the Fitness Center has been dealing with regarding the signage issue in Apalachicola.
    Betsy Doherty
    238 Water St

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