Spokane Valley City Council weighs easing signage rules

SATURDAY, AUG. 20, 2011

It became apparent Monday that most members of the Spokane Valley City Council are interested in loosening the city’s sign code.

Staff prepared a comparison between the city’s sign code and the sign regulations in Liberty Lake and Spokane. In some areas Spokane Valley has more generous regulations, such as allowing much larger wall signs.

The city inherited Spokane County’s sign code when it incorporated, then revised the rules in 2007. Banners, which are considered temporary signs, are only allowed for 30 days, with one 30-day renewal. That length of time doesn’t seem long enough, said Councilman Dean Grafos, particularly for a seasonal business. “I think we need to look at that from a business standpoint,” he said.

An important consideration is that some businesses might leave signs up until they become tattered and unsightly, said senior planner Lori Barlow. “There are certainly forms of temporary signs that don’t last all that well,” she said.

Mayor Tom Towey said most business owners police themselves in terms of worn signs. If they do a poor job “they’re not in business very long,” he said. “We have to take that into consideration.”

Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she favored getting rid of the temporary sign rules. “The goal is aesthetics, I think,” she said. “Do we care if they have a temporary sign on the wall for 180 days?”

“I think temporary signs ought to be allowed,” said Councilman Arne Woodard.

Grassel said other cities don’t charge for temporary signs and there isn’t much staff time involved. “The temporary sign fee seems out of order here,” he said.

A-frame or sandwich board signs also got a fair amount of discussion. Woodard reacted strongly when he learned that they are banned in the city, even for things like real estate open houses. “I’m going to continue to put my open house signs out when I do real estate,” he said. “If I get fined I’m going to be really upset.”

The A-frame signs are one area in which Spokane Valley is stricter than its neighbors. Liberty Lake bans them except for real estate open houses and Spokane allows one sign per business that can only be displayed during business hours.

Councilman Bill Gothmann said he remembers “horror stories” from the early days of the city’s incorporation when signs clogged sidewalks so badly they weren’t passable by pedestrians. “That was one of the big issues,” he said.

Spokane Valley charges a $50 fee and requires a permit for wall signs, free-standing signs, monument signs and temporary signs. Liberty Lake has sign fees ranging from $75 to $115, but doesn’t charge for temporary signs. Spokane County charges a $50 fee for all signs except temporary signs, which don’t require a fee or a permit.

There was some discussion on whether a business would have to get two permits for two wall signs. Barlow said a permit must be filed for each sign, so two permits would be required. Grassel suggested finding a way to “streamline” the procedure. “That process seems like a little bit of a headache to me,” she said.

Grassel also questioned the requirement that any monument sign over six feet tall must be certified by an engineer. The height limit for monument signs in Spokane Valley is seven feet. “It’s my understanding that that’s something out of the International Building Code,” said Barlow.

Gothmann noted that the city’s 2007 sign code came from an ad hoc committee that included business owners, sign company representatives and a private citizen. “We have to get the sign folks involved,” he said. “They have a level of knowledge that we don’t.”

The city should also rethink its policy of allowing anonymous complaints, Grafos said. He gave as an example a business owner cited for having an illegal sign who promptly filed several dozen complaints against other businesses that also had illegal signs. “I don’t think we should do that,” he said. “It creates a real caustic atmosphere with our businesses.”

City Manager Mike Jackson said some people prefer to file complaints anonymously because they fear repercussions.

“I think if you’re going to make a complaint you should have enough backbone, I guess is what you call it, to put your name on the complaint,” Grafos said.

No decision was made on the sign code Monday. Staff will research possible rule changes and bring them back to the council at a later date.

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