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Questions remain following sign code meeting
They came with questions and they left without many answers.
About 30 business owners and residents in Silverdale attended a meeting last week where Kitsap County officials spoke about pending changes in the county’s sign code.
Darren Gurnee, project manager for the sign code update, gave a 20 minute overview of the draft code that’s been underway for the past year. Gurnee said the update of the code came about because the county received questions from business owners and churches that wanted to put in electronic signs, which weren’t allowed under the current code.
So, he said, a committee was formed to look at the code and provide clarity, streamline the application process and still “conserve the visual quality of Kitsap County.”
“What we did was create a document (the proposed code) that we are now getting reaction from business owners and residents,” Gurnee said. “We want to make sure that you are behind it because it’s your (sign) code.”
Gurnee did not read the code, but referred those attending the meeting to go to the county’s website to review the proposed code and he said, there is a section for individuals to write comments about the code.
But that didn’t seem to sit well with most who were there. They wanted more specifics.
Central Kitsap Community Council (CKCC) member Mary Earl wanted to know if the code would allow signs on utility poles.
“That’s not even allowed now,” said Gurnee. But he didn’t specify whether it would be in the future, either.
Others wanted to know about temporary signs, such as political signs, events signs, or for sale signs. Still others wanted to know what the proposed code would do about “human signs,” —those people who stand at intersections twirling signs — and electronic signs.
Gurnee said he was “doing his best” to recall specifics of the proposed code in answering those questions. He said currently, temporary signs aren’t allowed, but under the new ordinance, one-day event signs would be allowed, but the event sponsor would need to let the county know where the sign would be posted, and leave contact information, and would be responsible for taking the sign down.
As for human signs, they will continue to be allowed but only on private property, not on the right-of-way or on public property, such as sidewalks. Signs along or on roundabouts will not be allowed.
A-frame signs, which have been abundant along Silverdale Way, will be allowed, but must be within 15 feet of the main entrance of the business.
Several business owners said they’d like to see the sidewalks free of them, especially in Old Town where there is more pedestrian traffic.
Richard Shattuck,another member of the community council, said those signs are popular in Old Town and under the new code that would be “too bad, so sad.”
The big concern for those at the meeting was electronic signs. Gurnee said currently they are allowed only for government agencies, such as schools and military. He clarified that the electronic sign at the YMCA in Silverdale was allowed because it was granted to Kitsap County, which owned the property where the Y is located.
Gurnee said electronic signs are allowed under the new code as it is written now. But the height of signs is limited and the timing for switching messages is too.
“We are trying to find a compromise,” Gurnee said. “There are businesses and churches who see value in these signs because the messages can be changed by computer which is a convenient way to do things,” he said. “What we don’t want is to have flashing electronic signs that would distract drivers.”
Resident Ron Gillespie said he was concerned that Silverdale would lose its community feel if electronic signs were allowed.
“I would recommend that you look at electronic signs again,” he said. “I’ve read the (proposed) code and it’s not specific enough. Personally, I’d like to see them prohibited. To have them up and down Silverdale Way would be extremely dangerous.”
Several of those in attendance were critical of the county’s sign code enforcement. When they aired their criticism, Larry Keeton, Kitsap County community development director spoke up.
“You ask why we don’t have better enforcement,” he said. “In 2008 when the county’s tax assessment went down, we lost two code enforcement officers. We have only two left and our priority is to have them looking at unsafe buildings.”
Business owner Elizabeth Barnes suggested that the county begin charging sign fees based on the size (amount of sales) of the business, rather than the $300 flat fee now charged and use that money to hire another code enforcement officer.
But Keeton said based on how the department operates, fees can’t be used for enforcement. He said the department operates like a business itself and all income is used to pay for costs of keeping the department going.
Keeton, however, said some changes are being made that will streamline the process of violations. Violators will be seen by the county’s hearing examiner, rather than in District Court which should speed up the process of fines and get signs that are not legal taken down more quickly. He also said the process of applying for a sign will improve and, he hopes, take an average of 20 minutes at the counter.
Gillespie and community activist Joyce Merkel said the county needs to let residents and business owners know specifically what changes are being made in the code and suggested that a document be drafted showing the old code and proposed new code and what the differences are. Merkel also pointed out that the proposed code’s wording, in relation to how variance would be granted, was too vague and seems “like anyone could get a variance.”
After an hour of discussion, many of the business owners and residents left feeling as if they didn’t have their questions answered.
One of them, Lynette George, who is the force behind the Blue Star Banners in Kitsap County, said she thought her banners would be okay under the new code. She spoke to county officials following the meeting.
“I am keeping my fingers crossed,” she said. “They just better be.”
According to the proposed code, any sign causing a safety hazard would not be allowed. Temporary signs, such as political signs, would be allowed with authorization, and rotating signs, advertising wind signs, banners and inflatable signs would not be allowed, unless they are associated with a specific special event.
To read the proposed code and leave comments, go to http://tinyurl.com/signcodeupdate. To speak to someone about the code, call 360-337-5777.
The meeting was jointly sponsored by the CKCC and the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce.