The symbol, known worldwide, beckons tourists to dive shops that cater to thousands of manatee lovers and scuba divers each year.
"They represent who we are,'' said Bill Oestreich, owner of Bird's Underwater, one of eight dive shops in Crystal River.
But Friday, Oestreich and his wife reluctantly removed five dive flags from outside the shop, which has been open for four years.
Their landlord asked them to do so after receiving a letter from the city that the flags violate the sign ordinance adopted in 2000. If the flags were not down by Sunday, they could be fined up to $250 per day.
"I'm flabbergasted,'' Oestreich said as his wife, Diane, placed the rolled-up flags against a wall. "This is our livelihood.''
Only a few dive shops received letters, but all have joined in protest. The City Council will consider the issue during its meeting Monday night.
Dive shop owners say they are outraged and surprised. The city, after all, proudly calls itself the "home of the manatee.''
"It's pretty stupid. A dive flag is almost a necessity to get people's attention,'' said David Mittelstadt, manager of S.T.A.D.T Aquatic Adventures.
"If people don't see those flags and know where to go, they are going to continue to another city, looking for a place to play,'' said American Pro Diving Center owner Ron Goodenow.
Last week, Goodenow wrote a letter to the City Council stressing the shops' importance to the local economy. He noted that dive flags do not carry advertising.
Though Goodenow was supposed to remove the flag a week ago today, it still hangs from a tall pole outside his shop.
Acknowledging his arguments, the city administration will ask the City Council on Monday to consider changing the sign ordinance, which currently allows for American flags and those for Florida and prisoners of war.
Building official Lew Chandler said codes inspector Bob Lopel was just doing his job when he noted the violation.
"Our ordinance excludes dive flags, so he went after them.''
Chandler favors allowing perhaps one dive flag of a certain size to fly. Flags, banners, streamers and other advertisements were banned under the 2000 ordinance, Chandler said, because they made the city look "gaudy.''
"The city wants a nice, clean, attractive town that tourists will want to come to,'' he said.
PHOTO, STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON
Diane Oestreich, who co-owns Bird's Underwater Dive Center, removes one of five dive flags from in front of the shop Friday after a Crystal River codes inspector sent a letter saying the flags violated the sign ordinance.
Leary, Alex. "Dive shop flag flap to get a gander." St. Petersburg Times [St. Petersburg, FL] 23 Feb. 2003: 12. General OneFile. Web. 26 May 2010.
Gale Document Number:CJ97984791
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