TARPON SPRINGS — Soon after the coronavirus crisis began last year, Tarpon Springs officials enacted several programs and plans designed to help local businesses affected by the pandemic.
One such effort, the Business Recovery Program, which permitted restaurants and retail shops to utilize outdoor space for shopping and dining, went into effect in May 2020 and has been deemed a huge success by many business owners. That same month, the Board of Commissioners agreed to halt enforcing a new sign ordinance that would require business owners to make potentially costly changes to their A-frame signs in order to be in compliance with the new legislation.
“I think right now our priority as a city, especially given everything that’s going on, is to make it as easy as possible for people to conduct business here and start a business here,” Commissioner Connor Donovan said when the item was addressed on May 26.
Some of the programs and benefits spurred by the pandemic will expire after the City Commission voted to extend the recovery program and the sign moratorium until Aug. 1, putting a hard deadline on what has been more than a yearlong effort to help spur economic recovery in town.
“Both of (these items) are up at the end of this month and we are recommending on each of them that we … set a definitive time,” City Manager Mark LeCouris told commissioners April 13, adding, “in three more months we will be out of this thing enough, so we’re asking to extend them at least another three months to Aug. 1 so we can tell the business owners definitely there’s three more months and those rules are going into effect.”
The board voted unanimously, 5-0, in favor of both items, with Vice Mayor Jacob Karr noting the commission has extended the sign moratorium “multiple times” and the city “could give ample notice about the A-frame rules going into effect on Aug. 1. So, I’m not interested in extending it past this last time here.”
Donovan joked that since he originally voted against the A-frame regulations he would love to extend the moratorium indefinitely, and he asked staff to phase out the city’s signs “so we follow our own code.”
According to the code changes, chalkboard A-frames are allowed, but all sandwich-board-style signs need to be “presentable” but not necessarily “professional,” a vague definition that is open to interpretation and sure to be a topic of discussion down the road.
For now, Mayor Chris Alahouzos said he hopes the merchants appreciate the assistance they provided, including giving them time to plan for the impending expiration of the pandemic-inspired benefits.
“Our local economy is not fully recovered. It’s doing better, but it’s not there yet,” Alahouzos said by phone. “So, I supported the staff recommendation to extend the Business Recovery Program and the sign moratorium because we wanted to give business owners enough notice that it’s going to change. Because they don’t need any more expenses at this time, they need to concentrate on revenue coming in.”