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Signs of times in Valley

Sat., July 9, 2011

Council considers updates in city’s sign, landscaping rules

Sign regulations and landscaping rules were up for discussion at this week’s Spokane Valley City Council meeting as council members work toward making changes to the rules.

The city inherited Spokane County’s sign code when it incorporated in 2003 and made a few changes in 2005, senior planner Scott Kuhta said. All portable signs are prohibited, temporary signs require a permit, and billboards are restricted. The rules were put together by an ad hoc committee that included business owners and sign company representatives. The city’s code enforcement officers used to go out looking for sign violations, but now they only respond to complaints lodged by citizens or business owners, Kuhta said. “At some point you get too much sign clutter and that’s not good for business.”

Not many business owners have complained about the rules on pole signs, Kuhta said. Most complaints are about streamers, banners and temporary signs.

“In 2005 it was a completely different business climate,” Mayor Tom Towey said. He said if that same group met today it probably would come to a different conclusion. “I think we should start thinking about the business climate today.”

Banners are allowed for 30 days with one 30-day renewal. The rules are similar for pennants, flags and streamers, but with a 60-day time period. If banners hang indefinitely they deteriorate, Kuhta said. “They really do end up becoming permanent signs.”

Examples of temporary signs are reader boards and A-frame signs. Kuhta said he recently saw an A-frame that would not have allowed a wheelchair to pass. “They’ll put it right out in the sidewalk,” he said.

Kuhta suggested the council look at rules for temporary signs as well as the rule requiring landscaping for a new sign on a developed lot.

Businesses are required to meet landscaping codes if they add onto a building or alter more than 500 square feet. The city uses a unique point system that rewards saving trees and using native plants in low-water landscaping. There are also landscaping requirements for parking lots.

Councilman Chuck Hafner said the parking lot landscaping rules could limit the number of parking spaces a business has. “You’re dictating the parking needs for them,” he said.

There are also landscaping requirements on property lines between two different zoning codes. For example, if a business is next to residential zoning, the property owner would be required to install a 6-foot fence in addition to trees and brush. That requirement seems redundant, councilman Arne Woodard said. The idea is that the fence provides screening while the plants and trees mature, Kuhta said.

He suggested lowering the threshold for landscaping for building additions and alterations, removing landscaping requirements for storage buildings on industrial sites, and not requiring a landscape architect for small projects.

The council can direct city staff to prepare code text amendments with the suggested changes that then would go to the planning commission for a public hearing before coming back to the council for final approval.

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