By Dan Harkins
DEBARY - In a sign of the SunRail-welcoming times, city leaders are considering a change to the city's sign code that would create more aesthetic uniformity on the streets. Business owners along most of the city's major roads would be required to construct a landscaped monument sign within the next five years, if what's there now is a pole sign.
The whole thing has Qing Huang seeing in the red. It's hard enough, she said, keeping her Wong's 8th Wonder Kitchen afloat without having to construct a new sign that might garner less attention for her restaurant and not more.
"It's crazy," she said. "How much (does) it cost for a new sign? I say no."
Planning Administrator Rebecca Hammock said staff and some DeBary City Council members have expressed support for a plan that establishes rewards for expedient compliance, though.
Her office is now working on a sliding payment scale that Council members will also review which would assist those businesses that comply the quickest.
"Each year, as we get closer to the deadline," Ms. Hammock explained, "the city would match less."
Council members will consider these and other aesthetics-related code changes on first reading at their next regular meeting on July 18.
If approved, a law already on the books forbidding new pole signs would apply to those that were already there when the law was passed and currently considered "nonconforming." They too would be made to switch to monument signs no taller than 8 feet and made of split-face block, synthetic stucco or brick.
The requirement would apply to businesses using pole signs all along the main commercial drag through town, U.S. 17-92, as well as anywhere along Saxon Boulevard, Highbanks Road, Enterprise Road, Dirksen Drive and roads with frontage along Interstate 4, such as Palm Road, Gardenia Avenue and Cardinal Drive. The small cluster of businesses at the Dirksen Drive exit of I-4 would be allowed to maintain their pole signs.
The new law would require landscaping too - 4 feet wide on either side of the monument signs, unless concrete completely surrounds an existing monument sign.
"We're encouraging that," Ms. Hammock said, "but we're saying 'whenever possible.' Some signs are on concrete, and we don't want those people to have an unneeded expense to replace their monument signs."
Mayor Bob Garcia says the purpose is to start creating a united feeling on the city's busiest thoroughfares.
"When you drive through my beautiful city," Mayor Garcia said, "there's not much there now to entice (people) to stop. The problem is, we haven't marketed ourselves and what we have to offer right."
Though Council members have expressed support for offering some form of financial assistance, Mayor Garcia isn't so sure that now is the time.
"If you're talking to me about matching grant money from the city," said Mayor Garcia, "based on the budget I'm looking at right now, I have concerns."
Perhaps these types of matching grants would be more suited for a new community redevelopment agency, he said.
City leaders appear united behind asking the Volusia County Council in the coming months to let them create a CRA, which would use surplus property tax revenue in the most ravaged section of 17-92 to pay for aesthetic, infrastructure and development improvements there.
The county has balked publicly in recent months about creating any new CRAs.
Regardless of whether these types of incentives will be available or not, Mayor Garcia said a new vision is being created that combines many approaches - from cultivating new development near the soon-to-open SunRail station to redevelopment along 17-92.
In the meantime, he said, changes like the switch to monument signs can be instituted in optimistic anticipation of an influx of new development offers in the coming few years.
Council members will also give first reading in July to an ordinance that would create the city's first Planning and Zoning Commission to review new development and rezoning requests, as well as make recommendations about comprehensive plan amendments. Currently the Council is the first and last line of review on these issues.
"This adds another layer of review and public participation," Ms. Hammock said.
To help entrepreneurs make improvements, Daytona State College's Small Business Development Center and local municipalities are sponsoring a workshop called "Brand Yourself Successful" from 6 to 8 p.m. July 12. The topics will include curb appeal, signs and landscaping. Location: the 1876 Heritage Inn, 300 S. Volusia Ave., Orange City. Call (386) 506-4723 for more information.