Commissioner Smith encourages removal of signs from county rights of way

County administrator provides stats on Code Enforcement efforts

An email he had received recently happened to focus on what he called one of his “pet peeves,” Sarasota County Commissioner Mark Smith told his colleagues last week, during their regular meeting on July 11.

“It had to do with signs in the right of way,” he explained. “I’m beginning to see more and more of them,” Smith continued, advertising a wide range of services and opportunities, he indicated. Among them were signs for plumbers and golf cart rentals, Smith added.

After receiving the email, Smith said, he checked with County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to learn about county regulations regarding such signs. Lewis pointed him to Section 124-211 of the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the land-use and zoning regulations, Smith continued.

Smith then read from that part of the code: “Signs erected on the right-of-way of any public street, road, or way, or signs overhanging or infringing upon the right-of-way of any public street, road, or way, are prohibited except as specifically provided in this Article.”

Therefore, Smith said, “I would just like to encourage all the good citizens who walk their dogs, if they find a sign, they should take it home with them, as it is considered littering in my opinion.”

He added, “You’d be doing us a public service. Thank you very much.”

However, Chair Ron Cutsinger turned to County Attorney Joshua Moye, asking, “We don’t want to be Code Enforcement, right?”

Moye recommended that if any member of the public sees a sign in the right of way, the person should contact the county’s Code Enforcement Division and ask that the sign be removed.

“That would be great,” Smith responded, “if it happened.”

Then Moye chuckled as he told Smith, “Unless you just ordained the whole county being law enforcement officers …”

Smith, chuckling too, said, “Deputize everybody. … Get these signs off the street.”

Early that afternoon, following that exchange, County Administrator Lewis sent the commissioners an email in which he included the wording of Section 98-9 of the County Code of Ordinances, regarding removal of signs in the right of way.

That section says the following:

  • “(a) The Sarasota County Zoning Administrator and his staff are hereby authorized by the Board of County Commissioners of Sarasota County, Florida, to remove all signs, without notice to the owners thereof, placed on public rights-of-way, and to impound them for a period of ten days.
  • “(b) The owners of signs impounded may recover same upon the payment of $10.00 for each sign, prior to the expiration of the ten-day impoundment period.
  • “(c) Signs erected by a governmental agency or required by a governmental agency, and constructed, erected or maintained on, over or upon any existing County, State, federal, or other public right-of-way, or officially adopted right-of-way, within the unincorporated areas of Sarasota County, shall be exempt from the provisions of this section.
  • “(d) Any person convicted of violating this section shall be punished by fine of not more than $100.00 or by imprisonment in the County jail for a period not to exceed ten days, or both such fine and imprisonment.”

The County Code of Ordinances says those regulations date to 1972.

Lewis also pointed out in his email that Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, which includes the Code Enforcement Division, “tracks the performance of this issue.”

Lewis attached to his email “data regarding the number of signs removed over the past five years.” He pointed out that, during the 2022 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, 2022, county “staff removed approximately 11,900 signs.”

Further, he noted, the data show “that our collection numbers in FY22 are comparable to [those in] FY18 and FY19. You can see that [the figures in] FY20 and FY21 were down, but we believe that was due to some of the factors related to COVID.”

The graphs that Lewis sent to the commissioners show that, for this fiscal year through June, the month in which the largest number of signs was removed from county rights of way was November 2022; the count was 1,409. Yet, the total in October was only slightly smaller: 1,372. Those were the months closest to the November 2022 General Election.

The fewest signs were removed in June, the graphs note: 717, followed by January, with 882.

Through June in the 2022 fiscal year, 8,799 signs had been eliminated from the rights of way. Through June of this fiscal year, the tally was 9,555.

Yet another graph showed that, from the 2018 fiscal year through the 2022 fiscal year, the largest total of signs removed from rights of way was recorded in FY 2018; the number was 12,238. The 2019 fiscal year count was 12,177. Then, by the 2021 fiscal year, the total dropped to 9,274 before climbing to 11,868 in the 2022 fiscal year.

2 thoughts on “Commissioner Smith encourages removal of signs from county rights of way”

  1. How does this ordinance affect election signs for people running for office, or non profit organization informative signs?

    • We believe, based on language in the UDC, that all signs — including political signs — are illegal in the rights of way. The UDC section that has the information about political signs is 124-212. – Signs Allowed Without a Sign Permit.

Comments are closed.