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SOBE SIGNAGE BLIGHT!
Temporary Signage Blight Allowed in South Beach
1 January 2013 By David Arthur Walters MIAMI MIRROR MIAMI BEACH—The signage blight clinging to the construction net veiling the façade of the historic Art Deco building on the northeast corner of 12th Street and Washington Avenue for the last few months is so appalling that one wonders why the City of Miami Beach has permitted it, either by issuing a formal permit or by simply ignoring it if there is no such permit. Tourists accustomed to seeing signage blight throughout the United States, which admires itself for freedom of speech, might not notice this merely temporary egregious case in our beautiful city by the beach. Even residents might not think this instance is so bad, so they are not likely to complain unless they are mad at somebody responsible for something else, and even then there are a lot of reasons for not complaining, including possible retaliation. But blight has a way of creeping up on residents until it they are dead to it, just as frogs do not jump out of water heated
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up until they are boiled alive. We notice that a lot of “temporary” signs have been around for years, and, in the case of “temporary” real estate signs, for a decade or more. An aesthete would assume that our blight has indeed been permitted by a tasteless bureaucrat because Code Enforcement officers from the Code Compliance Division of the Building Department, who are supposed to know the signage ordinances, pass it by every day. Police officers from the police station a block away enjoy coffee at the Starbucks therein, and the Code Compliance Division, although it is not a division of the police department, is “commanded” by a police officer. Still, we must not be too hasty to blame the blight on lazy Compliance officers. The permitting of so-called construction signs pursuant to review and approval of their design is not as obvious as for real estate signs, which are supposed to “receive” a permit in the form of a decal applied t o them. Free standing construction signs could of course receive such a permit decal if the city administration made a point of it, and some contractors and architects do obtain decals and put them on those signs. However, signs approved for placement on construction fences when the fences are permitted apparently get blanket approval. Section 138-133 informs us that sign copy is not limited to the project name, parties involved in construction and financing, and so on. And ornamental signs and artistic murals may be included on construction fences surrounding projects. Therefore almost any copy one can get approved will do, including advertisements of the real estate sales organization and a picture of someone’s mother. There are size limitations, but when computing the size of fence copy, artistic murals and ornaments are not counted. One of the signs on our signage blighted building, for example, the Corpora Corporation sign, appertains to real estate sales. It obviously does not have a permit decal on it. It that sign were part of a construction fence, it could in theory be approved. However, it appears not on a fence, but on the screening affixed to the building. We have no idea without further investigation of what relationship Corpora has with the remodeling project, perhaps none at all. Since it is reasonable to conclude that it should be permitted as a temporary real estate sign according to Section 138136, and should have a permit decal affixed to it, the Compliance officers passing by should have filed a complaint on it. After all, if someone were urinating on the sidewalk in front Starbuck’s, would a police officer do nothing? I show elsewhere in this series that there are scores if not hundreds of real estate sales signs without current permits in this city, so the code is virtually unenforced unless someone complains. Again, construction signs are approved pursuant to the design review process of the Planning Department, so Compliance officers check with that department in case someone complains, otherwise they seldom bother if at all.
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I went over the Planning Department myself the other day to see if a construction sign was permitted. A helpful city employee, who asked not to be identified, said the Planning Department was in a mess—more on that Kafkaesque adventure later. I left the building empty-handed, chatting with a gentleman who was in a daze because he said something “weird” had happened to him in Permitting.
The Star Group Specialty General Contracting sign at the site bears contractor-license numbers. However, the Bunker Engineering & Construction Services sign has no license number. Does “construction services” imply construction contracting? Contractors and architects are required by state law to include their license numbers in advertisements. If the engineer is contracting, that would violate the law, but if he and the firm he is associated with were just doing engineering, he does not have to exhibit his license number. Chapter 471 of the Statutes of Florida defines engineering as work engineers are trained to do: “such services or creative work as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning, and design of engineering works and systems, planning the use of land and water, teaching of the principles and methods of engineering design, engineering surveys, and the inspection of construction for the purpose of determining in general if the work is proceeding in compliance with drawings and specifications, any of which embraces such services or work, either public or private, in connection with any utilities, structures, buildings, machines, equipment, processes, work systems, projects, and industrial or consumer products or equipment of a mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, or thermal nature, insofar as they involve safeguarding life, health, or property….” Chapter 489 states that , “Contractor” means the person who is qualified for, and shall only be responsible for, the project contracted for and means, except as exempted in this part, the person who, for compensation, undertakes to, submits a bid to, or does himself or herself or by others construct, repair, alter, remodel, add to, demolish, subtract from, or improve any building or structure, including related improvements to real estate, for others or for resale to others; and whose job scope is substantially similar to the job scope described in one of the subsequent paragraphs of this subsection” (general contracting and several specialties are defined). Contractors and architects can do incidental engineering tasks, and engineers can do incidental architectural tasks, without a license in the incidental type of work. Engineers are required to have seals. If I were an engineer, I would want a facsimile of my seal on all my advertising copy, and I would proudly state my license number thereunder, even though the statute says just calling myself an engineer is sufficient.
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Without checking the relevant permits, we have no way of knowing if contractors, architects and engineers are actually associated with a project. And without checking the state website we do not know if they are currently licensed. The state does not enforce the law on license numbers unless someone complains; therefore some contractors, architects, and others do not put license numbers on their signs as required, and they probably do not get a local sign permit either.
Perhaps they scoff at the law since it goes unenforced. There is little or no consequence when it is enforced, because the enforcers say that the objective of the law is compliance not punishment. And it may be that some contractors and architects do not even know they should put their license numbers on their signs, if they are indeed licensed. Although they had to pass a test to get their license, if they do have one, their ignorance may not be limited to signage laws. Do you want to do with business with real estate sales organizations that do not follow the simplest law regulating their trade? Do you want to do business with contractors and architects who do not follow or know about even the simplest of laws regulating their trade? The state may allow local code compliance officers to enforce the state code in respect to the requirement that contractor signs exhibit license numbers. George Castell, Code Compliance Administrator, said the design review process for temporary construction signs might permit only contractors’ signs with licensing numbers. He has not gotten back to me yet on how he will follow up to see if that may be done.
A sign on Alton Road placed in a window by South Florida Restoration indicates that its qualified contractor is rightly proud of the fact that he is licensed by the State of Florida—so proud that he may have violated that local ordinance that a construction window sign may not cover more than ten percent of a window area. His sign would be great advertising if only the
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state enforced the law. If it does not, the license does not mean much except that the contractor can place a lien on your property if you do not pay. My fashionista friend says, “If it’s brown, put it down.” We like bright colors and people in sunny Miami. Yet when it comes to signs around here, I like brown backgrounds for white letters; marróne o color de café as they say at Las Olas Café on Sixth and Euclid. One of my favorite contractor signs, the brown sign of Hogan Brothers, appears at a motel construction project on Washington Avenue bearing both a valid local sign permit decal and state license number. The question remains: Is the signage blight in front of Starbucks and the Erotic Museum at 12 th and Washington permitted? May heaven forbid! ##
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