City steps up notice of sign code violations

The city of Maple Valley recently stepped up enforcement of its sign code much to the frustration of business owners.

The city of Maple Valley recently stepped up enforcement of its sign code much to the frustration of business owners.

“The last two weeks I’ve had my signs down I’ve gone from $300 to $400 days to $40 days,” said Norm Holcomb, who owns and operates Bees in the ‘Burbs. “It’s to the point where it’s very concerning. I’m going to do everything I can to try to survive, but it’s not good. They’re not helping small business.”

Holcomb said he first saw a city truck out by his sign and then received a letter stating that he was in violation of the sign code and that he had to remove his sign.

“People are trying to get creative but it’s going to be very tough,” Holcomb said.

The city’s attention was drawn to the issue of out of compliance A-boards and other non-compliant signage throughout the city’s commercial areas after several complaints were received, City Manager David Johnston said.

“We’ve never not enforced our sign ordinance,” Johnston told the Maple Valley City Council at the June 10 Council meeting.

Johnston went on to explain that in the past, approximately once a month a crew would go out on weekends and collect signs that were in violation of the code.

“Of late, unfortunately, we’ve had more and more infractions,” Johnston told the council. “We’ve had to step up enforcement during the week.”

The area of the city municipal code at the center of increased enforcement relates to the use of A-board or A-frame signs, which according to the code are banned in the city.

Section 18.5 of the Maple Valley Municipal Code states, “A-frame or A-board signs, except for civic event or community service signs subject to a temporary sign permit, offsite real estate signs, religious institution and garage sale and yard sale signs…” are prohibited.

Steve Clark, the city’s public works and community development director, said in an interview Monday that when the city incorporated the sign code was created through collaboration with business and property owners.

There was one attempt to update the code in the mid 2000s but that effort stalled in 2008.

At the council meeting Monday, Clark explained that currently the city is working to educate business owners as to the code and give them a chance to comply.

After those steps are taken if business owners are still displaying the signs, then signs are confiscated and citations are issued.

Clark told council that while he has a stack of violations approximately six inches high on his desk, the city has issued 10 fines or less.

City code states the fine for a first time violation is set at $100.

With one previous violation the fine jumps to $500, and with more than two previous violations the fine is double the rate of the previous penalty.

To reclaim a confiscated fine costs $25.

“I think you need to take time to let the sign code work,” Clark said Monday at the council meeting.

Also at the meeting this week, Johnston noted that a multitude of A-boards can cause safety and aesthetics issues while explaining the sign code exists to control the amount and types of signs and business owners can’t just do whatever they want.

“Where you’re seeing the angst is, ‘We should be able to do what we want to get our business to succeed,” Johnston said.

Councilwoman Erin Weaver said she agrees with Clark.

“There’s always going to be a dissonance,” Weaver said of perspectives on the sign code. “I think education (about the code) is a huge issue.”

At the meeting Monday Clark also told council that city staff simply don’t have the time to work up changes to the code at this time.

Clark said that the two big projects on the staff’s proverbial plates at the moment include revising and updating the comprehensive plan and updating the zoning code.

“What you’re seeing, what’s being asked is reflective of what Maple Valley wants,” Clark told Council. “It’s not as onerous as it seems.”

It isn’t just A-boards but also things like signs in windows that the city is stepping up enforcement on.

Shawn Beresford of Shawn’s Quality Meats and Smokehouse has heard talk about the signs in his windows.

“I have not been sent a warning about it (his signs), nor have I been fined,” Beresford said. “I don’t know if it’s the truth or if it’s a threat, but a lot of the businesses are very concerned.”

Beresford is concerned about what the signs, or lack of signs, will do to small businesses in Maple Valley.

“I understand what the ordinance is and so forth because if you’re making a homemade A-board it can look pretty tacky,” Beresford said. “But if you have one that’s professionally made and so forth, it can be really good…I understand what they’re trying to do, but these guys are just trying to conduct business.”