Pinecrest to loosen rules for banners at schools

Pinecrest council members think they’ve found a way to help schools raise more money by putting advertising banners on their fences — but without creating excessive visual clutter.

PTSA leaders and the village’s representative on the Miami-Dade County School Board asked village leaders to loosen sign rules so that schools could put up more banners promoting upcoming events or businesses that have given money to the schools.

The council previously considered a plan that would have allowed schools to dedicate up to 10 percent of their fences to banners, provided that no sign is more than four feet tall.

But some residents and council members were concerned that would allow too many signs, creating visual clutter.

And council member Jeff Cutler said that the way the proposed ordinance was written, people who want more signage would just need to add more fences.

“We are looking at an ordinance that favors fences,” Cutler said.

So the council instead agreed to allow schools to place signs totaling up to 128 square feet for each side of the school. That’s about three times the square footage now allowed. Each sign could be no larger than 4 feet by 8 feet

Vice Mayor Nancy Harter asked that a time limit also be added back to the ordinance.

At her request, the council voted to allow banners for no more than 90 days at a time. The current ordinance allows schools to keep banners up for only 14 days at a time.

“Ultimately, I don’t want to see a company-sponsored sign in the same place all year round,” Harter said.

At the suggestion of Village Attorney Cynthia Everett, the council agreed to apply the changes to all property zoned for “public services,” which includes property owned by Florida Power and Light and a few other businesses as well as churches. Everett had expressed concerns about possible legal challenges if churches were not treated equally to schools.

The tentative changes will require final approval at the council’s Nov. 13 meeting.

The changes sparked a debate between school boosters and people concerned about protecting the village’s appearance.

Resident Terri Buria said she was worried unregulated sponsor advertising would “cheapen” the schools.

She said business would have the opportunity to exploit the unlimited advertising space if the looser ordinance had been passed.

“Businesses are going to sponsor things and ask to put up a banner,” Buria said. “You are really just creating billboard areas at eye level. At some point in time someone is going to bend and twist this.”

But resident Brian Shapiro said that banners have really helped schools in the past.

“We have raised a lot of funds by this kind of communication,” he said.

Lawrence Feldman, who represents Pinecrest and neighboring communities on the Miami-Dade school board, joined the side asking for relaxed rules.

“Don’t shut the door on them,” Feldman said. “It’s getting harder and harder to fund the schools.”