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Residents weigh in on proposed sign code

Kitsap County Planning Commissioners got a earful Tuesday during a public hearing on a proposed new sign code for unincorporated areas of the county. Some residents said they found it limits free speech, while others said the current code is confusing.

The county’s sign code has been in place since 1998 and the department of community development, the planning commission and others have been working for more than a year to update it.

The draft sign code is designed to foster economic development by providing predictability while preserving high levels of visual quality of Kitsap County, according to Larry Keeton, director of the department of community development.

“Our goal is to adopt a user-friendly sign code recognizing the preferences of Kitsap County residents and businesses,” he said.

Randy Hanson, from the Hanson Sign Company in Silverdale, was one of several people who testified at Tuesday’s public hearing. He said his family has been in the sign-making business since 1937 and his company has more trouble getting permits in Kitsap County than anywhere else.

“We have a code that is not workable,” Hanson said. “It’s not enforceable. It’s not understandable. It wastes a lot of your county staff time trying to figure out what is allowed for a sign in the community.”

Hanson said the current code makes it nearly impossible to tell customers what kind of sign they can have at a given location in the county and the rules often “get made up from site to site.” Hanson said he can get permits over the counter in other counties, but in Kitsap it can take three weeks or more.

Teresa Osinski, the executive vice president of the Homebuilders of Kitsap County, also spoke about the inadequacies of the current code.

“The current code makes it very difficult for someone who wants to follow the rules to know what they are and be successful in getting their sign,” Osinski said. “And (the code) makes it easy for those that want to violate those rules to get around it because the county really has a tough time enforcing it.”

Old Town Silverdale resident Joyce Merkel said the proposed sign code update was developed by, and for, business interests at the expense of residents.

“I see nothing wrong with the current ordinance we have, other than the fact that (the department of community development) has refused to enforce it,” she said.

Tracyton resident Ron Gillespie also talked about a lack of sign code enforcement, with the electronic sign in front of Klahowya Secondary School serving as a prime example.

“If we can’t get one high school to comply with the code regulation and electronic signage regulations what are we going to do when we get every business competing to get people in and trying to push the envelope every step of the way?” he asked. “The result is that we’re going to have business after business trying to get cuter than the next business with imaging and messaging. The result is that we’re going to be constantly violating the code.”

Henning Larsen, vice chair of the Kitsap County Democrat Central Committee, was one of several speakers to raise concerns about proposed changes to rules governing political signs. Larsen was especially concerned about a new 200-foot rule for political sign spacing which he said could potentially lead to more and more political signs, rather than less. He also worries about height restrictions for staked signs, a two-week cleanup period and penalties to campaigns for violations.

Kingston resident Johnny Walker said he was representing the non-partisan Tea Party and raised several concerns about the proposed sign code.

“My recommendation tonight, my ask of you, is to reject this and send it back to DCD and ask for zero-based development. The public deserves to understand what the vital government interest is in regulating our free speech and there has to be a compelling argument for each prohibition … The paramount job of government is to protect individual rights. There’s sufficient question in this document whether that is the case at all.”

A second public hearing on the proposed sign code will be held at 5:30 p.m. June 16 at Poulsbo City Hall Council Chambers, 200 NE Moe St., in Poulsbo. The planning commission will take public comments into consideration as it makes a recommendation to Kitsap County Commissioners who will vote whether to adopt the proposed code.

The sign code has been debated several times at pubic meetings, including one sponsored by the Central Kitsap Community Council. Since the central area, mainly Silverdale, is one area of the areas in the county that is not incorporated, whatever the county commission adopts will regulate commercial areas in and around Silverdale, including the Kitsap Mall area.

The 28-page proposed code is available online and includes a series of definitions of types of signs. It sets out that permits are required from the county before signs are erected, unless the songs are exempt.

It prohibits signs on utility poles or traffic control signs, signs on roundabouts, signs that are located within 30 feet from intersections, signs that obstruct drives, doors, walks, windows, fire or escape routes.

Temporary signs, such as those stuck to trees, rocks and benches are not allowed in the proposed code. It also prohibits electronic signs outside the Urban Growth Area and Type III LAMIRDS (limited areas of more intense rural development) except when authorized or exempted for schools, churches, public safety agencies, and governmental agencies.

The code prohibits signs with animation, flashing, fluttering lights and rotating signs. It also prohibits banners or inflatable signs not associated with a special event.

And in Old Town Silverdale, it upholds the suburban design standards that prohibit electronic signs.

There are exemptions to these rules, however, including historic site markers, official or legal postings by a public agency or court, seasonal or holiday decorations that do not function as a sign, plaques, religious symbols, garage sale or temporary signs that are no larger than four feet square, and residential identification signs.

The code also sets fourth exemptions for A-Frames of certain sizes and in certain places, flags, political signs, and community sings.

As for “human signs,” a human shall be located on-premise only and not in then public right-of-way, bike lane or sidewalk, according to the proposal

The code also has a section regarding violations, which reads “unapproved signs in violation (of the code) will be subject to removal by county staff at the owner’s expense.”

The entire proposed code can be viewed on the county’s website at the 2014 Sign Code Update page at http://tinyurl.com/KitsapSCUpdate. Or call 360-337-5777 for more information or to make comments.

 

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