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Business leaders speak out against sign ordinance

Spokane business leaders were sharply critical Monday of a proposed 45-page sign ordinance that would restrict the size and height of signs and create numerous other regulations.

About 40 people signed up to testify about the sign law at Monday’s City Council meeting. Most who spoke criticized the rules.

“We ask you not to handicap the business community,” said Jim Huttenmaier, public affairs manager for Greater Spokane Inc., who expressed concerns about a proposed ban on signs that have changing images.

Opponents argued that the ordinance would hurt business, limit speech, force the use of antiquated technology and create rules that made little sense.

Spokane Valley City Councilman Bill Gothmann, who said he was testifying on behalf of his church, noted that some signs for public schools would become “nonconforming” under the ordinance, but other similar signs at different schools would continue to be allowed.

The few supporters who spoke argued that the rules are necessary to improve traffic safety and improve the aesthetics of the community.

Pauline Pfohl told the council that well-crafted regulations could help business in the long-run.

A business district that has attractive, well-placed signs “will attract more customers than an ugly one,” she said.

The most hotly debated topic was a ban on changing-image signs. The ordinance would not only bar the construction of new changing image signs, but force existing ones to be taken down unless the images on them remained static for 24 hours.

Supporters of the change argued that the digital signs are so districting that they are traffic hazards.

That proposal was especially concerning to representatives of the Spokane Public Facilities District, which recently spent $600,000 to erect a digital sign advertising upcoming shows in front of the INB Performing Arts Center.

Kevin Twohig, executive director of the PFD, said the organization has spent about $1.5 million on five digital signs, including ones at the center, the Spokane Convention Center and Spokane Arena.

“They help us get people to 585 events,” Twohig said. “I honestly don’t know how to run a performing arts center without a marquee.”

Suzanne Markham, president of Citizens for a Scenic Spokane, said existing digital signs could remain as long as their brightness is turned down and images only switched every 24 hours.

“The technology is amazing,” Markham said. “With the right constraints they can fulfill all of the needs and the balance between traffic safety and aesthetics.”

Ron Gileck, of Pro Sign Inc., noted that modern changing-image signs are much more energy efficient than older technology, such as neon, which would conintue to be allowed – though neon’s brightness would be regulated.

Several criticized a proposal to limit the number of temporary signs that can be erected by real estate agents for open houses to three. The same limitation is proposed for garage sale signs.

Real estate agents argued that the limit would hurt their ability to sell homes.

“Three is far too few,” said Joe Mann, a board member of the Spokane Association of Realtors. “I’ve had to use as many as nine signs to get people to a home.”

Markham said she doesn’t see a need for a limit on the number of temporary signs.

“I don’t see they are a problem,” she said in an interview.

Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan ended testimony on the sign rules just after 10 p.m. Further consideration of the topic was delayed until next Monday.

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