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AMSCD Approves Sign Policy; Details Still Vague

The Ave Maria Stewardship Community District dealt with a vexing question of who should be entitled to put up signs on major town roads by passing a resolution Tuesday that lets the town developers decide. The more practical answer to the question still is not clear, however, because local businesses and residents still don't know if they can get permission because the developer did not announce how it will make those decisions.

"We want to make it fair to all parties," said Barron Collier Vice President David Genson, without providing any indication to the monthly board meeting about how decisions would be made.

The board's action is intended to avoid free speech issues that could arise if the district – as a governmental body – decided to allow some signs and disallow others.

The issue first arose when Pulte Homes asked the board for permission to put flags promoting its Avalon Park development on the Seton St. bridge leading from the Ave Maria town center. The permission was not granted pending development of a sign policy, although Pulte put up the flags anyway.

District lawyers and town residents then raised concerns that permitting a sign for one business and not another could run afoul of the First Amendment.

In its action Tuesday, the district said that it would not make decisions on signs and instead would grant an easement to Ave Maria Development for areas along Ave Maria Blvd., Pope John Paul II Blvd and roads in the town center so that the developers would have responsibility for developing, administering and enforcing restrictions on signage along those roadways. Responding to questions at the meeting, district lawyers said they were confident that being at arms length would insulate the district from any claims of infringement on freedom of speech although one lawyer who has handled First Amendment issues told The Ave Herald that it was not clear to him that was the case in the absence of specific guidelines for which signs would be permitted.

The resolution passed by a vote of 3-1 with one board member, Liesa Priddy, not present and new board member Jim Carletta casting his first vote on the board against adopting the sign policy.

In other matters, the board:

- Welcomed new board member Jim Carletta, an Ave Maria resident who was elected by landowners in November to one of the five seats on the board. Mr. Carletta's seat will be up for election by residents in the first half of 2017.

- Approved a map showing the amount of "urban area" in Ave Maria, which determined that one of five seats will be directly elected. The process to convert one seat from being elected by landowners to being elected by residents continues next year. At the February meeting, procedures will be announced for how to qualify as a candidate and the election date, which by law must be before July 6.

- Approved resolutions relating to bond financing, payment procedures and approval of the final budget for the last fiscal year, all of which were carried over from the November meeting which was not held due to lack of a quorum.

- Gave final approval to a manual on golf cart operation in Ave Maria, bringing to a close more than five years of efforts to put in place regulations on golf carts and give the Collier County Sheriff's Office the authority to enforce them. The manuals will be printed and available at the offices of the Ave Maria Master Association.

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