Port St. Joe commissioners are hoping this last amendment to the city’s sign ordinance will be, literally, the last.

Port St. Joe commissioners are hoping this last amendment to the city’s sign ordinance will be, literally, the last.

Commissioners last week again amended the ordinance, first created some six years ago, to address issues that remained after most recently amending the ordinance earlier this year.

Specifically, commissioners dealt with 14 signs in town which were deemed non-conforming after the sign ordinance was amended in January and which had led to considerable debate and protests since.

Commissioners left those signs alone, allowing them to be grandfathered into the updated ordinance until such time as the nature or name of the business changes, regardless whether ownership changes.

In addition, those signs grandfathered in can not be replaced by another non-conforming sign, enlarged or extended or reconstructed and can not be re-established if at least 50 percent of the sign is damaged or it has been removed or abandoned.

After amending the ordinance in January to tighten up language on the size and height of signs, commissioners heard protests from businesses as disparate as Five Star Collision, Emerald Coast Credit Union and McDonald’s.

While the amended ordinance provided a process to receive a waiver, the process brought fees which also came under fire.

Matt Scoggins of Five Star said the city would be without his $1 million in annual revenue if the problem with existing signs was not properly addressed.

Harry Lee Smith came before commissioners twice on behalf of Emerald Coast Credit Union and the family that owns the McDonald’s protested having to change the Golden Arches sign.

 Signs for a host of businesses were grandfathered into the ordinance, including those for Sunset Coastal Grill, Bayside Florist, Tyndall Federal Credit Union, Family Dollar, Waterfront Autos, Auto Zone, Capital City Bank, Duren’s Piggly Wiggly to name a few which were rendered non-conforming when the sign ordinance was amended earlier this year.

The amended sign ordinance also addressed setbacks on state highways – the city adopted Florida Department of Transportation rules – and definitions of roof signs.

The amended ordinance passed 3-2 with Commissioner Rex Buzzett and Mayor Mel Magidson dissenting. Buzzett and Magidson have dissented the two times the Commission has taken up the sign ordinance this year, arguing January’s amendments were unnecessary and counter to the intent of the ordinance.

Commissioner Bo Patterson has championed the revisions and been joined by Commissioners Phil McCroan and William Thursbay.

Gulf Pines Hospital

Attorney Tom Gibson told commissioners that the Internal Revenue Service would like the city to resubmit all documents pertaining to the city’s attempt to clear up liens off the deed for the Gulf Pines Hospital property.

Commissioners have put back on the burner a proposal to demolish the hospital and plat the land to sell for single-family homes.

The hiccup for commissioners is tax liens, the major one held by the IRS in addition to three years of property tax certificates/deeds.

Last year, when commissioners were examining options, the IRS indicated a willingness to work with city officials provided the local property tax issues were cleared up, otherwise cleaning up the Gulf Pines Hospital deed.

The issue has taken on additional urgency with the continued decay of the building.

City workers were on the property recently to clean and remove debris where possible.

Boat launch fees

Commissioners continued to discuss, but take no formal action, on implementing launch fees at the city boat ramp in Frank Pate Park.

Thursbay said, “I want to get the ball rolling” while providing a bit more detail on how a fee schedule would look.

Under the current proposal, city residents would pay nothing to use the boat ramp; county residents would pay $5 per day or could purchase a season pass for $25; and out-of-county residents would pay $10 per day or purchase a season pass for $50.

The goal is to raise funds to maintain the boat ramp.

Resident Tim Nelson said municipalities up and down the coast currently charge to use boat ramps.

The sticking point is implementation.

Thursbay has proposed an “honor” system as well as a box or machine to collect money and spit out tickets. The city and possibly some local businesses would sell daily or seasonal passes, depending on proposal.

And while there is consensus on the board for boat ramp fees, how to go about it has lacked a clear consensus.

“We really need to sit down and talk about it to see the best way to do it,” Buzzett said. “We want to make it as smooth as possible.”

Thursbay asked commissioners to bring ideas for discussion at Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly meeting with an eye on implementation in time for the summer season.

In other business from last week’s meeting:

*Commissioners will conduct a workshop prior to their April 1 meeting to consider options for addressing ongoing issues with discolored water from the tap.

“We are getting very close to a solution,” Buzzett said.

*Another meeting and another testy exchange between Magidson and a resident of Cape San Blas concerning the relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse.

Dr. Pat Hardman attempted to pin Magidson down on where the city was getting the money to relocate the lighthouse. The bids, Magidson said, for the move came in just under $500,000 and Hardman asked how the city would foot that bill in addition to the estimated $170,000 cost of lowering power lines by Duke Energy to accommodate the relocation.

The city has a state appropriation of $325,000, a Duke Energy grant of $25,000 and raised nearly $40,000 in other donations and Hardman repeatedly asked where the remainder of the money was coming from.

Magidson turned the question back to Hardman, asking her where the proponents for keeping the lighthouse on the cape were securing their funds, and continued, as he has for several meetings, to insist the city has the money or “it will be coming.”