Council further restricts non-political signs

The City Council implemented a new restriction that limits the amount of days a temporary sign may stand at one location during the course of a year.

Temporary signs, those commonly seen advertising special events at the Island’s busiest intersections, garage sales or businesses, are now allowed to be out only 90 days during the year. City staff recommended that the restriction be extended for a year so that a sign owner cannot simply remove it for a day and put it back, restarting the 90-day count.

The new rule, approved by the Council last Monday, gives the city the authority to remove signs if a resident complains and the sign isn’t removed after the 90-day period expires, said the city attorney Bob Sterbank.

“If a sign is left out there and [signs] are accumulating, this gives our code enforcement officers some authority to tell [their owners] to take them down, or we will take them down for you,” Sterbank said.

The city will begin monitoring specific signs after a complaint is filed and will remove the sign if it stays up longer than 90 days. According to Steve Lancaster, the director of the city’s development services group, enforcement would include the attempt to warn sign owners approaching the 90-day limit that their property would be seized if not removed when required.

A provision added by Councilmember Steve Litzow and approved by the Council excludes political signs from the time restriction. Litzow feared a candidate or political party would challenge the law in court if it involved campaign signs.

“Our city attorney has already told us that the Supreme Court has held political, First Amendment speech to much higher protection,” Litzow said. “I want to avoid getting into lawsuit with a candidate or a party. That is not a priority to the city.”

According to Sterbank, the laws regulating political signs remain the same.

However, at a meeting earlier this month, the Council discussed and ultimately decided to exclude an amendment that would have prohibited temporary signs in public lands near city parks, which are usually overloaded with campaign signs during election season. Councilmembers said they feared that restricting those spaces would also entail a costly lawsuit.

The amended ordinance does not change the existing provisions that regulate specific sign uses in the Town Center, and it is a blanket provision for all temporary signs. Additional regulations for specific types, such as real estate or sandwich boards, remain in place.

The city’s temporary sign ordinance allows one real estate sign on the private property of homes on the market, three “Open House” sandwich boards and four signs for apartment complexes with units available to be on public lands during business or show hours. Similarly, Town Center businesses may have one sign on public property within 100 feet of their door during business hours. For all types of temporary signs, there are also varying size restrictions.

Pedestrian and bike plan to be re-visited

In a separate agenda item, the Council also approved the expenditure of $75,000 to update the city’s pedestrian and bicycle facilities plan.

The city will focus on key issues identified by the Council. Those include remedying the conflicts between pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles, regulating the new East and West Mercer Way shoulders, connectivity to the Town Center and providing safe routes to schools.

As recommended by the city’s finance director, the Council will use money from a portion of the city’s street fund surplus that is collected through real estate excise taxes.

The update is expected to take about nine months, and the city will hire a consultant to assist with the work load. Last August, the Council directed city staff to begin work on connecting routes through signing and striping from schools to neighborhoods using existing maintenance operational budget dollars. That work will continue separately.

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