Council move on signs a step in wrong direction | Guest View

‘Edmonds Bowl is a poor business location’
By Natalie Shippen | Oct 15, 2016
Natalie Shippen

Editor’s note: Natalie Shippen, Edmonds’ first female councilmember, has been one of the strongest voices in the attempt to allow freestanding business signs on a limited basis.

Edmonds’ natural setting is one of great beauty. In the 50 years since the freeway was built, Edmonds residents have worked to make its manmade environment equal to that setting.

It’s been a long, slow haul, and there’s still much to do, but most residents and visitors appear to agree that downtown Edmonds has achieved, at last, an inviting appearance.

The revised sign code recently passed by the Edmonds City Council is a step backward.

It’s the product of several rambling exchanges by a disinterested Council. Sign code regulations are excruciating to read, and the Council gave the proposed code revisions only a cursory review. It asked staff several idle questions about code minutia and hoped that would pass as legislative insight.

The Council then blundered into a remarkable decision: It made a weak sign code much weaker.

About three years ago, Edmonds residents noticed an increasing number of sandwich-board signs on downtown sidewalks. It was brought to the attention of the Council, which agreed to review the matter.

After the election about three years later, the Earling administration submitted a sign-code revision proposal.

As the Council wandered through the document, it was constantly reminded by staff that the primary issue to be considered was the proliferation of “temporary” commercial signs (mainly sandwich boards) in downtown Edmonds.

Keep in mind – that was the problem.

The Council was presented with three solutions.

Option 1 would not permit temporary signs on a permanent basis. That is the choice of many municipalities. New businesses or a business reopening under new management are allowed a period of time, which varies, to display signs that draw attention to their existence.

Once that period ends, no more sidewalk signs are tolerated. Selective municipalities regard temporary commercial signs as the pariah of signs, so their existence is kept temporary. The Council didn’t choose option 1.

Option 2 is similar to Edmonds’ existing code, which allows sandwich boards, stanchions, easels and other freestanding portable signs. They are considered temporary commercial signs, and their display is limited to a total of 60 days in a calendar year.

The code revision would require a permit “so that the 60 days can be tracked.” The 60 days can’t be tracked now because no record is kept of a sign’s installation date. Requiring a permit won’t help because that only tells the enforcement officer when the sign was placed on the sidewalk.

The problem in both instances is that the allowed 60-day period is not consecutive, but random. Keeping track of 60 random days for hundreds of businesses could be cumbersome. Option 2 isn’t as good as option 1, but it could be improved by making the limit a 60-consecutive-day period. The Council didn’t adopt option 2.

Option 3 is incredible. It “solves” the proliferating sandwich boards problem, and other temporary signs by making them permanent; i.e. they will be allowed on the sidewalk 365 days a year. Residents will be subjected to cheap advertising sign trash on the sidewalks every day they use the downtown streets.

The Council chose option 3.

Downtown business owners claim that temporary, freestanding commercial signs are necessary to the success of their enterprises, especially those owners on side streets who want to put their signs at intersections.

It’s a dubious claim.

The more likely problem for all downtown businesses is that the Edmonds Bowl is a poor business location. It’s marginal, and half its market area is water. The other half faces intense competition from Lynnwood and Seattle.

Signs can’t solve that location-location-location problem.

The assertion that residents should tolerate sign trash because small downtown businesses attract visitors who appreciably increase sales tax revenues? Hyperbole. It’s generally known that most sales tax revenue is provided by the auto outlets on Highway 99. Only recently did the finance director announce that sales tax revenues in the Bowl had risen. That increase was attributed to restaurants. The growing number and variety of downtown food and drink establishments undoubtedly attract visitors.

Fortunately, restaurants are also good neighbors. They don’t litter the sidewalks with signs, and al fresco dining contributes to a cheerful, inviting street scene.

Businesses come and go with the economic tide.

Edmonds residents have stayed and paid the freight with their property taxes. Edmonds residents have built and maintained a quality residential home, one that they are proud of. The first responsibility of any Council is to protect that quality.

The Council has said it will review its sign code decision in 6-8 months. Option 1 is the best choice. Option 2, with a 60-day consecutive limit, would improve the weak status quo.

Option 3 is unacceptable.


Comments (1)
Posted by: Rebecca Petriello | Oct 17, 2016 13:04

I am utterly amazed by Ms. Shippen's vitriol and indifference towards our wonderful downtown business core. The freestanding signs are not offensive. I absolutely cherish the businesses in the Bowl and believe their vitality is paramount to keeping the downtown core attractive to visitors and residents alike. "Businesses come and go with the economic tide" suggests that it doesn't matter to Ms. Shippen whether our downtown businesses survive or not. Ms. Shippen also seems to forget that the people who own the buildings that rent to our downtown business "have stayed and paid the freight with their property taxes" and can only continue to do so with renters that have thriving businesses. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Ms. Shippen. For me, it is beautiful to have an alive, dynamic and varied experience when in downtown. If a temporary sign makes the difference for a business to succeed, then by all means let them put out a temporary sign and succeed.

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