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Valley Council backs proposal to allow more signs

Suggested changes to code require public hearings

The Spokane Valley Planning Commission recommended relaxing the city’s sign code, and on Tuesday the City Council unanimously agreed to relax the rules even further based on the recommendation of a representative of a local sign company.

Pro Sign Inc. President Steve Wineinger presented the council with a nine-page packet laying out “what it is I think it needs to say.” His comments received nothing but praise from council members. “I think they make sense,” said councilman Arne Woodard of Wineinger’s suggestions.

Current city code allows businesses to have one freestanding sign per arterial street frontage. The language proposed by the planning commission called for one sign for each 500 feet (or fraction thereof) on arterial streets in mixed use and office zones and one sign for each 300 feet (or fraction thereof) on streets in commercial and industrial zones.

Wineinger asked the council to approve one freestanding sign per 200 feet of street frontage in any nonresidential zone, plus additional signs for each additional 200 feet or fraction thereof. Several proposals made by Wineinger would be substantial changes and would need to go back to the planning commission for a public hearing, said senior planner Lori Barlow, including suggestions to change the monument sign height requirements and ban electronic message centers in office or noncommercial zones.

Councilman Ben Wick was the only one to express concern about the new rules, although he ultimately voted for the proposal. He suggested adopting the planning commission’s recommendations and then re-evaluating the code later. “This is a pretty big change,” he said. “Our existing code is for one sign. I’m leaning more towards an incremental approach.”

Councilman Dean Grafos said he was fine with the 200 foot rule. “I think that’s reasonable,” he said.

The council asked city staff to incorporate Wineinger’s suggestions for freestanding signs into the code before it comes back for a final vote on April 24.

In other business, the council unanimously approved an ordinance banning special event permits that allowed fundraising on street corners, despite a last-ditch effort from a Spokane Guilds School board member to stop it. Groups have been allowed to seek one permit a year to do fundraisers on street corners, but groups have not been complying with the rule to stay out of the streets.

Councilman Chuck Hafner said the Spokane Valley police chief was concerned about someone getting hit by a car. “I think that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” he said.

There’s no question that the Guilds School and other charities do good work, said Mayor Tom Towey. “I think it’s a question of safety,” he said. “I’ve been trained in traffic control. I know how fast it can happen.”

“Our paramount responsibility is the safety of our citizens,” Grafos said. “I don’t think you can compromise on safety.”

Groups will still be able to stand on sidewalks with signs directing donors into a parking lot, said City Attorney Cary Driskell. “It’s like a car wash.”

The council also voted unanimously to award the bid for the Sprague Avenue reconstruction project to Poe Asphalt, which had the low bid of $2,481,291. Seven companies submitted bids, all of which were below the city’s estimated cost of $3.3 million.

In related business, the council voted 4-3 to take a little more than $2 million from the city’s 2011 year-end general fund balance to use for street preservation projects. Last year the council agreed to take 40 percent of any amount over $26 million at the end of each year. The $2 million represents 100 percent of the amount over $26 million.

Towey joined council members Gary Schimmels and Wick in voting against the plan. “I’m kind of hesitant about going forward with this,” Towey said. “We have Sullivan Bridge hanging over us. That’s a $10 million liability.”

Towey proposed waiting until after the next bridge inspection in October, when the city will get a better idea of how long the temporary repairs will hold.

Woodard said the proposal was to take 100 percent of the amount over $26 million for just one year and he wouldn’t be in favor of doing it every year. “I know I’d have a problem with that,” he said. The city is in a good bidding climate and should take advantage of that, he said. “It won’t be enough, but it certainly would go a lot farther,” he said. “I believe we have a real opportunity here, this year only.”

Schimmels said the reason the city has so much money left over at the end of the year is because the balance hasn’t been spent down. “I hate to see us do this, because next year something new will come up,” he said.

The city can’t make a habit of spending one-time money on a recurring problem, Towey said. “You cannot do that for any length of time,” he said. “We’re going to have to address the long-term problem of street preservation and it should be with long-term money.”

Woodard, Grafos, Hafner and Brenda Grassel voted to approve taking the $2 million from the year end general fund balance.

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