Leesburg Council addresses sign, drainage issues

LEESBURG -- The Leesburg City Council agreed to work with a pair of citizens who brought grievances to the Council's monthly meeting Tuesday night.

The Council first approved a "compromise variance" that will allow Anthony Taylor to keep an animated sign in his downtown Leesburg Barber Shop -- despite a city ordinance banning such signs -- then tabled action on a drainage complaint by Debra Thomas until the city's Water and Sewer Committee can meet with her at her Katie Lynn residence today.

"I bought that sign three years ago, and it's been in my window now almost three years," Taylor told Council members. "No one's complained about it in all that time, and no one's come to me and said anything about it until recently. I had to get a loan to pay for that sign, and that's a lot of haircuts.

"The time to come to me with a complaint would have been in the first year when it was still under warranty. If y'all deny me the right to have that sign, it's going to hurt my business, and we're already hurting in this economy. If I'm denied here, I'll have to take this somewhere else ... I'll have to talk with my attorney."

Zoning Administrator Marshall Wilcox told the Council Taylor's sign clearly violated a city ordinance and denied that the barber had been singled out for punishment.

"Why did it take three years for a complaint to be made on this issue?" Councilman Steve Kitchens asked.

"From what I understand, someone else applied for a similar sign and when they were turned down they complained about other businesses that had them," Mayor Jim Quinn said. "Those businesses were then cited."

When Councilman Sidney Johnson noted that other businesses in the county had signs similar to the one Taylor had at his business, Quinn said, "Lee County has virtually the same sign ordinance that we do. I don't know why they don't enforce their ordinance."

Wilcox and City Attorney Bert Gregory suggested that the Council could allow a variance with a condition that Taylor's sign change at an 8-second frequency, but Gregory said the Council should readdress its ordinance at a later date.

Councilman Bobby Wilson said, "We can meet a reasonable conclusion if he's (Taylor) willing to bend a little bit. We can work on this together to try and bring his sign into compliance."

When Wilson made a motion that a variance be granted for Taylor's sign with the condition that the sign change at 8-second intervals -- a motion that was quickly seconded by Johnson -- Taylor said his sign, because of its size, scrolled at times to spell larger words.

"We're trying our best to help you here if you'll let us," Wilson replied

before the Council voted unanimously to approve the variance.

Thomas said she has lived at her low-lying house on Katie Lynn for eight years and that she'd been complaining to city officials since she moved in.

"It's been happening since I moved in, and I've been complaining for eight years now," she said. "The only time anything was ever done was about three years ago when I came to the Council.

"I'm furious ... Every time there is a pretty significant amount of rain, my children and I wake up to (waste) in our bathroom. I feel like my kids and I shouldn't have to live in sewer water. Every time it starts to rain now, I start getting nervous."

Johnson asked that the matter be tabled, then assured Thomas that the Water and Sewer Committee would meet with her today.

"That meeting will be held at your house," Johnson said.

Councilwoman Debra Long read a Budget/Finance/Tax Committee recommendation that new rates be applied for utilities customers. The new rates include $200 deposits for residential customers ($100 each for water and sewer) and $750 deposits for commercial customers; a $35 returned check fee; a $75 reconnection fee; and a $100 after-hours reconnection fee.

The fee changes were approved unanimously by the Council.

"I've been here for about 24 years now, and the (current) fees have been the same that whole time," Long said. "We've got to at least cover the cost of doing business."

The Council voted to approve a request by Lee Chamber of Commerce Director of Marketing and Membership Lisa Davis that the north end of Starksville Avenue be closed from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 13 for the recreation department/YMCA-sponsored Under the Oaks Artfest. The board also voted to name Steve Kitchens mayor pro tem for a two-year