Town officials have approved another Fort Myers Beach sign variance to further shorten its noncompliance list among island businesses within the sign ordinance.
The Beach Town Council unanimously granted Beach Theater officials a requested variance for its sign to be 37 square feet in sign face area and 7'10" in overall height as well as maintaining its backlit changeable message panel.
Council members cited the unique environment of the property and business as a main reason for their approval. They suggested amending the sign ordinance to allow theaters a special exception, but the process would take three to four months and other businesses are currently waiting in the variance process.
The issue involving internal illumination in the existing sign and its location's set back distance were also addressed.
"It seems like this variance comes down to the lighting. I've been down there many nights, and I certainly don't find it offensive," said Councilman Dan Andre.
"If I am driving I don't try to look at the sign because it is set way back," said Councilman Jo List. "There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, and I am trying to find a balance between the two for our taxpayers.
Town staff recommended that Council not approve the variance request due to no "exceptional or extraordinary conditions inherent to the property" and no verifiable hard case situation. The Town sign ordinance specifies a business' overall sign height be no more than 6 foot, six inches tall and have no more than 32 square feet of sign face area.
But Dolphin Inn at 6555 Estero Blvd. -Beach Theater's neighbor- was granted a nine foot overall sign height last November. Beach Theater's sign also sits atop a raised grade on the businesses' parking lot.
Town officials would rather businesses use external lighting as specified in the ordinance than the internal illumination that Beach Theater's sign currently possesses.
"The entire panel is illuminated rather than just the letters or symbols as required by code," said Town Zoning Coordinator Leslee Chapman. "The granting of this variance would be injurious to the surrounding neighborhood. It is not in compliance with our sign code."
The initial property of Beach Theater at 6425 Estero Boulevard was permitted back in 1997. Tree foliage covers most of the building, making signage on it tough to read. Thus, there is no signage on the elevated building in use. Many passers by do not recognize it as a movie theater and a restaurant with an alcohol license.
Last year, Town Local Planning Agency approved the Beach Theater sign during its hearing process by a 6-1 count.
Applicant William McMullan and Beach Theater co-owner Nick Campo looked at external lighting, but thought floodlights may cause more of an issue. Both also stated the Town's hedge-size requirements already block a portion of the sign and that another variance request ($2,000) would be needed to lower that foliage height.
"We feel that this is a unique business for Fort Myers Beach," said McMullan. "We are working very diligently on the marketing end of this. Businesses in Time Square do wish that Beach Theater would remain open."
Sea turtle lighting requirements were discussed.
"I can tell you that I have had to change the wattage of my light bulbs in the parking lot due to illumination, but I have never had an issue with the turtle inspectors on the sign," said Campo.
Interim Mayor Alan Mandel told the applicants he appreciates the landscaping on the property and commiserated with them about the visual blockage.
"I think it does make it difficult to see what movies are playing on the lower end of that sign," he said. "Would the nature of this business be different because they do have to change the lettering on the sign on a regular basis?"
A suggestion was made to take height off the top of the sign, where the property's numerical address sits, and place it at the base to make the signage more visible.
With "less than a handful" of business sign holders yet to work with Town officials or communicate with them about variance requests, out-of-compliance signs are dwindling on Estero Island but proper regulation should be heeded.
"Keep in mind that the decisions that you make have an impact on future decisions," heeded Town Manager Terry Stewart. "The decision you make today will set precedence."