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Small, illegal signage now in the crosshairs of volunteers

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Depending on where you stand, roadside signs can be either the lifeline of grassroots commerce or a blight on right-of-way beauty.

By MELODY JAMESON

Depending on where you stand, roadside signs can be either the lifeline of grassroots commerce or a blight on right-of-way beauty.

If you’re an estate sales broker or want to sell your house, need to advertise goods or services of a burgeoning business enterprise or are striving to get your name before the motoring public for a specific purpose, those signs so easily staked beside roadways are an affordable way to reach your market.

If, on the other hand, you’re a riding roadside watcher rather than a roadway reader, you may think of those plastic and paper proclamations as detracting ugliness cluttering careful roadway landscaping and besmirching the grassy roadsides with too much artificial color.

For Hillsborough County’s Code Enforcement section, it doesn’t matter; the signage in the right-of-way is illegal under county ordinance and they’re training volunteers to pull it – from any right-of-way anywhere in the county.

Driven by mandates to reduce costs, code enforcement instituted the volunteer program about a year ago, according to Andy Pfeiffer, an inspector as well as supervisor who conducts the training classes. “We were charged to do more with less,” he noted.

Added to this is the fact that many citizens are very much concerned with the appearances of their roads and streets, and are inveterate sign pullers independently before becoming formal volunteers, Pfeiffer said.

Currently, five trained volunteers are collecting the illegal signage around the county.

Another eight have completed the classroom work and now are undergoing background checks through the county’s human resources section, reports which then will be reviewed by the county attorney’s office, Pfeiffer noted. Once vetted, Hillsborough County style, the volunteers are to be equipped with orange vests and authorizing identification, he added.

Anne Cross, a Sun City Center resident, is among the group of eight new volunteers and the only one identified as living in the South County.

In the classroom, volunteers spend two hours covering “the dos and don’ts,” Pfeiffer said, including heavy emphasis on safety. The volunteers also are taught to accurately identify rights-of-way which are the focus of their sign pulling activity.

“We teach them to look for utility poles, fire hydrants, electrical boxes, water meters,” he added, because such public service fixtures routinely are placed in rights-of- way. And properly identified rights-of-way assist them in pinpointing and pulling the signage that actually is illegal beside the county’s roads.

Not all illegal signage is as close to the ground as the generally two foot by two foot sale signs are or the election season candidate and issue signage can be, Pfeiffer said. Some of it is nailed to utility poles and sometimes out of reach for the volunteers.

And, some of what might appear to be illegal, actually is permitted, he added. Special permission is given the annual parade of homes, certain festivals, a particular golf tourney in the north reaches of the county, for instance, to advertise with the small signage because attendees may need the sign directions to reach the events.

At present, it’s up to the volunteers themselves how the confiscated signage is dispatched. Some have found ways to recycle the materials, others dispose of the signs in collected trash, Pfeiffer noted. “If the volume gets heavy, we may have to develop a system for disposal,” he added.

The anti-signage in rights-of-way movement also has a website, Pfeiffer pointed out. CAUSS.org (Citizens Against Ugly Street Spam) was initiated in Texas in 1997 and serves as an informal information exchange site in cyberspace for all foes of the signage that also is known as “snipe” and “bandit.”

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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