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Future is bright for neon in Wilton Manors

Wilton Manors is officially “OPEN” to neon.

The glowing signs were unwelcome in the city, until Tuesday night. After a year of discussion — including nervous talk that removing the ban could invite more neon into Wilton Manors than anyone wants — the City Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday night to allow it. Commissioner Scott Newton voted no.

Signs still can’t cast a “direct glare … into the eyes of passing motorists or pedestrians,” but neon is no longer forbidden.

Illegal neon signs abounded in Wilton Manors — more than 100, by the city’s count. With their familiar glow, they alert passersby to the presence of beer within, or “Free HIV testing,” or even “Professional Eyecare.” The city wasn’t enforcing its ban, but wrestled with how to handle the outlaw signs.

Some consider neon tacky, some consider it pleasantly retro. Some conjure images of tubing bent into artistic creations, others imagine the classic sign to the “Bates Motel,” or “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas.”

“There’s still nothing as classic as a neon sign.” That’s how one local sign shop advertises its neon creations and repairs.

Nelson Jaramill, a graphic designer at Broward Signs, said colored gas inside colored tubing makes the radiant signs unique.

“The neon, it’s an art form,” he said.

Yet it has its detractors. Dating back decades, cities have rendered its use atop businesses or in windows illegal.

That’s still the case in many cities, including in South Florida. Mayors across Broward said they have restrictions on neon. Some, like Lauderhill, allow it under conditions — no flashing, for example. Others, like Cooper City, Plantation, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Hillsboro Beach and Weston have a no-neon approach. Miramar and Margate are among those who say neon’s OK as a window sign, one that says “OPEN,” for example.

Mayor Gary Resnick said neon is “not particularly attractive.” He has said that neon’s disappearing in favor of the more environmentally friendly and equally bright LED — or light emitting diode — signs.

Jaramill agreed.

“The power it takes to illuminate a neon sign versus LED is astronomical,” he said.

The new rules limit the number of signs a business can have, and declare that signs must be turned off when businesses are closed.

In other action, Wilton Manors commissioners Tuesday:

- Voted 4-1 to allow Commissioner Julie Carson to travel at city expense to Arizona for a League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference. Carson acknowledged before the meeting that while in Arizona, she will visit her brother and his family, who just moved there. But she said the $1,069 trip is the only one she’s requested in her eight years in office. Mayor Gary Resnick voted no.

Brittany Wallman can be reached at bwallman@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4541. Find her on Twitter @BrittanyWallman.

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