Code Enforcement Collects 8,200 Signs in 2009

Campaigning at the pollsBetween “snipe signs” and other illegal signs observed around the county, St. Johns County Administrator Michael Wanchick told Historic City News local reporters that a total of 8,200 signs were picked up and disposed of during last year.

“A total of 1,004 cases involving signs were investigated and 8,200 signs were off loaded; a total of 6,800 pounds,” Wanchick said. “Additionally, code enforcement officers issued 176 written warnings and 89 citations.”

The county’s Code Enforcement Program Supervisor, James L. Acosta, is responsible for overseeing this program which was designed to help keep St. Johns County beautiful.

Acosta is also on the front line when it comes to the proper display of political campaign signs — something that many St. Johns County residents will likely be inundated with as more candidates announce for contests that will be decided as soon as August.

According to a letter received by Historic City News from Acosta, violations of the county sign ordinance could get expensive and add up quickly. “For a first violation,” Acosta said, “the fine could be $108 — per day. Repeat violations could be $258 — per day.”

The maximum area of a political campaign sign displayed in a residential district in St. Johns County is only size (6) square feet, or, thirty-two (32) square feet outside of a residential district.

Although the county can only assess a maximum penalty of $500 or up to 60 days in jail, serious violations could result in a required appearance before a special magistrate. According to Wanchick, “A total of 25 cases were taken before a Special Magistrate last year.” If it is determined that a violation warrants such action, fines could be levied as much as $1,000 per day for first violations and $5,000 per day for repeat violations.

We spoke with David D. Birchim in the Planning and Building Division at the City of St Augustine; where they have their own, more restrictive ordinance for posting political signs within the city limits.

“Campaign signs cannot be larger than forty (40) square feet,” Birchim said. “They have to be placed on private property with the owner’s permission, cannot appear anywhere within the five (5) Historic Preservation districts, and must be removed within seven (7) days following the election.”

The City of St. Augustine also prohibits distribution of handbills, circulars and other advertising from being placed on motor vehicles, public streets, sidewalks and other public places.

According to Birchim, “The City will remove non-compliant signs without notice and bill the candidate or political organization; they have thirty (30) days to pay or appear before the Code Enforcement Board.” Any amount determined to be owed becomes a lien in favor of the City against real property and assets of the candidate or political organization.

Visual polution in political campaignsThe State of Florida never allows political campaign signs in the “right of way”, whether attached to DOT traffic control devices or signs or free standing, anywhere on the paved area of the road, the road shoulders, sidewalks, swales, and all the other property adjacent to the road owned by the State for the construction and operation of the road or other facility. This right of way may extend far beyond the paved road surface and may or may not be mowed or fenced.

The Florida Highway Patrol, the Florida Department of Transportation, and local law enforcement agencies monitor the use of the public right of way and may issue citations when unauthorized uses are found. Courts may impose a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment of up to 60 days or both for each offense. Local ordinances may impose additional fines. Each day an unauthorized use continues is a separate offense.

The City of St. Augustine Beach will not allow political campaign signs to be displayed earlier than twenty (20) days prior to the election to which they pertain anywhere within the corporate limits of the City, they must not be larger than thirty-two (32) square feet and must be removed within ten (10) days following the election.

In the Ponte Vedra Beach zoning district, political signs must not be larger than twelve (12) square feet or erected more than four (4) feet above ground level. A maximum of one (1) political sign per candidate may be displayed on any lot.

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