Maple Valley City Council approves change to sign code

The Maple Valley City Council approved an amendment to the city sign code allowing one portable sign per business, civic or community event in a 4-2 vote Monday night.

The Maple Valley City Council approved an amendment to the city sign code allowing one portable sign per business, civic or community event in a 4-2 vote Monday night.

The city’s sign code, which was adopted in December 1999, previously prohibited all A-frame type signs.

The Maple Valley Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend amending the city’s sign code to the City Council late in 2013, specifically permitting businesses and civic and community events to have one A-frame or A-board sign.

The amendment was put before the commission in early November by city staff and the commission took comment during a public hearing Dec. 4. The recommendation was put before council Monday night by John Strandberg, senior planner for the city.

During the summer the city stepped up enforcement of its sign code much to the frustration of business owners.

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 in June.

Business owners reported receiving letters about out of compliance signs and some said they saw a drop in business when they had to take their signs down.

The amendment revised the definition of a portable sign and outlined guidelines about the allowable size of signs, that signs must not be illuminated, must not be a hazard by obstructing vision of drivers, may not be on sidewalks or within right of ways, and the signs must be on the premises of what they are advertising.

The amendment does not address signs related to real estate, religious groups, or other temporary signs, which are addressed elsewhere in the code.

One of the main goals of revising the sign code was to create equality between commercial, civic and community interests when it comes to portable signs.

“I think the key thing here is that we looked at the portable signs, specifically the A-board sign issues,” Public Works and Community Development Director Steve Clark said to council Monday night. “You have a choice, you can not allow them for everybody or you can allow them for everybody.”

During discussion of the proposed changes, Councilwoman Linda Johnson said she was not sure if it was the best option.

“I just don’t see that this is doing anything to help the situation and it’s making it worse,” Johnson said.

Councilwoman Victoria Jonas voiced worries about restricting how many portable signs community and civic events can have.

“My concern is that the community events that make Maple Valley, Maple Valley, how do we get the word out and still be equitable,” Jonas said.

Patricia Taraday, who is a part of Lighthouse Law Group which represents the city, explained that the city has to be careful to protect itself because the sign code gets into First Amendment rights and protected speech, which is why it is important the code treats businesses, community, and civic events equally.

Councilwoman Erin Weaver supported the amendment.

“I think that there are options,” Weaver said. “I think that clearly our mission to the Planning Commission was to look at A-board signs and the reactions to businesses in the community that were suffering. So we have heard that there is more work to be done on the sign code, is certainly due to be looked at again in the next year, year and a half, because we are raising a lot of issues here.”

Johnson and Jonas were both in favor of postponing the decision so the council could host a public hearing on the amendment but that proposal was voted down by the council.

“Our businesses have said that this is time sensitive and I don’t want to try to fix a whole slew of issues when we know we can come back to this as soon as we get the comp plan done and do some fine tuning,” Weaver said. “Lets give businesses the best chance we can to be fair and does not add too much clutter, and to allow people to advertise.”

The final vote by council was Layne Barnes, Weaver, Sean Kelly, and Bill Allison in favor and Jonas and Johnson opposed. Noel Gerken was absent from the meeting.