It’s going to be a bit more difficult to find businesses off the main vein of Highway 98 if Florida DOT has anything to do with it.
At the moment, large, white community direction signs indicate businesses down Don Bishop, Mack Bayou, 393 and elsewhere in South Walton. But those will be taken down after nearly 10 years of advertising less-visible businesses.
“Fifteen have been cited to be removed,” said Ed Morrissey, who owns a business down Don Bishop Road. He says Florida DOT’s reason for the removal is “that they are on the right of way.”
A DOT representative said they are indeed within the right of way and that it is illegal to have signage — or anything else — on the state-maintained land.
“There are (15) signs on Highway 98, a state road. You’re not allowed to put anything on state right of way,” said DOT’s Josh Rudd.
If it wasn’t for the right of way, however, the signs would still be in violation for their size or for off-site advertising, or a combination of the three factors, according to Rudd.
Business owners were notified Nov. 1 that the signs were in violation of Florida Statute 337.406. They were given a deadline of 10 days to take the signs down. But while the business owners were given the violation notifications, the responsibility lies with the county to take them down.
“The people don’t own the signs, the county does,” said Rudd. “Six months ago, I got with the county. (They) were supposed to have them removed.”
Morrissey says it’s a real shame to lose the signs, which, when he and other business owners down Don Bishop put them up, were in full compliance with parameters the county had set forth.
“It was five feet wide, no taller than 10 feet, black (print) on white,” said Morrissey.
The 28-year owner of Paint Booth Body Shop down Don Bishop has come to terms that the offending signs will have to be removed, but he is afraid the sign removal will hurt business at his shop and elsewhere.
“That’s at least 75 businesses,” said Morrissey, of those that will lose at-the-road visibility.
Morrissey said that even though his business has been around for nearly 30 years, new customers and longtime residents still come in surprised that he is there.
“I had a woman come in and say, ‘Gosh I didn’t know you were here,’ ” Morrissey told The Sun Tuesday.
He said the timing is ironic as he was just planning to take the sign down and revamp it with new paint and lettering, though that won’t be necessary now.
Rudd says the signs will be removed Nov. 13 or sooner, whether by the state or the county. He added that the signs cannot come back — that is, unless business owners “can get the county to kill the ordinance on directional signs,” said Rudd.