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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Change in Valley ordinance allows bigger signs

A Spokane Valley ordinance that regulates signs – from the flashing lights on Sprague Avenue to the inflatable gorillas that pop up at car lots – was changed Tuesday night, allowing businesses to build bigger signs in certain areas and put them closer together.

The ordinance allows signs that cover up to 25 percent of an exterior wall instead of the former 250-square-foot maximum – 10 feet by 25 feet, for instance – in some areas. It also reduces the amount of space required between signs on a single property from 500 feet to 300 feet.

“The one thing we have to recognize is that people compete for business on Sprague,” Councilman Richard Munson said Monday. “I think this is a pretty good ordinance.”

The planning commission and a committee of sign company representatives and people from area businesses began revising the code last year, subject to council approval.

Dropped from the ordinance were any mention of aesthetic corridors, where only monument-style signs would be allowed, or billboards, which were a heated topic when their numbers were limited by the Spokane County commission before the Valley city incorporated. Both will be considered in the land-use chapter of the city’s developing Comprehensive Plan.

“One of my difficulties is discerning what’s changed from what the prior policy was,” David Gnotta told council members.

He agreed that the size and distance changes were made for good reasons but wondered what aesthetically minded citizens will get out of the ordinance.

He suggested that the city crack down on small, portable signs that line Sprague and other streets that are supposed to be temporary but end up as a permanent part of the landscape. Such signs are supposed to be illegal.

“We’re going to do the best we can” to enforce the law, community development director Marina Sukup said in an interview.

The city has two code enforcement officers who also respond to complaints about junk cars and other residential nuisances, and presently many sign violations go unchecked.

For example, the city rarely checks into the permit required for the inflatable signs along Sprague that are only supposed to be up for 30 days, Sukup said.

Councilman Dick Denenny said the new ordinance will allow the city to do a better job of enforcement. It was enacted unanimously by the council.

The appearance of most signs won’t change much under the new ordinance. Existing signs that don’t comply with the rules are not affected and can be taken down for up to 60 days for repairs and put back up without falling under the new rules.

Owners of defunct signs must remove the identifying words and illustrations from them after 60 days, but sign frames can stay in place for up to three years.

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