Sandwich board pollution a sign of the times?

By Paul Archipley | Dec 18, 2013
Photo by: Paul Archiply An increasing number of free-standing signs, or sandwich boards, has prompted calls for better policing or changes in the sign code. The City expects to consider options in 2014.

Efforts by a longtime Edmonds resident to put the brakes on overuse of sandwich board signs may be bearing fruit.

A couple of months ago, Natalie Shippen began attending City Council meetings to express her unhappiness with the proliferation of the free-standing signs in downtown Edmonds.

Allotted just three minutes each time, Shippen steadfastly attended meetings week after week to enable her to cover the issue thoroughly.

A former councilmember herself, she told the Beacon that she first became aware of America’s sign pollution in the 1950s when she and her husband visited Europe. Signage was much more limited, making business districts more attractive, she said.

In Edmonds today, the sign code permits business owners to use free-standing signs, or sandwich boards, in front of their business up to 60 days a year.

But with limited staff, including just one code compliance officer, the City depends on citizen complaints or the businesses to monitor themselves.

And, that, Shippen contends, isn’t happening. She doesn’t think citizens should have to act as vigilantes, and she doesn’t see that businesses are policing themselves, either.

“I compare it to measles,” she said. “All these spots are popping up around town.”

Shippen would like to see the code strengthened, with more enforcement, and offenders facing fines when they don’t comply.

Mayor Dave Earling said Shippen’s persistence prompted discussions between him and staff, and they agreed they would revisit the sign code in the New Year.

For him, the first order of business will be putting a stop to directional signs that some business owners are placing on main streets to point customers to their businesses located elsewhere.

“They chose their location, and they shouldn’t be allowed to put a spotlight out in front of other businesses,” Earling said.

Senior Planner Kernen Lien said that, because of limited staff, enforcement of the sign code has been a lower priority.

But the City is looking at options that will be examined more thoroughly in 2014. Those include an update of the sign code, which may include tightening regulations and closing loopholes, and outreach to businesses to make them aware of the code and to encourage them to police themselves.

“It’s difficult for us to enforce when you have to go to one business at a time,” Lien said.

David Arista, co-owner with his wife Ruth of Arista Wine Cellars at 320 5th Ave. S, said he would prefer to see business owners police themselves as well.

He said the Downtown Edmonds Business Improvement District would likely look at the issue in 2014 to determine whether it merits further discussion.

The Aristas follow the code, putting up a sandwich board in front of their store for short periods throughout the year to notify the public of special events, such as a wine tasting.

“We just need to remind everybody about the code,” he said. “We can address it that way.”

Ruth Arista said she has talked to others in the community who don’t believe sandwich boards are a major issue.

“I have heard people say it’s a non-issue,” she said.

Like many business owners, the Aristas and most of their employees live in Edmonds, so they are concerned about keeping the community beautiful, too.

“We live here, pay the same property taxes, we’re working with our neighbors and friends,” Ruth Arista said.

“We can figure out a constructive way to address it.”

Andy Cline, of Cline Jewelers at 105 5th Ave. S, and president of the Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association, said the issue hasn’t been discussed by that body.

Declining to comment on the sandwich boards issue directly, Cline did say he was open to working with the City on the sign code.

“We would like a seat at the table,” he said.

Shippen might very well want one, too. She said residents should have a say.

“I think there’s a struggle going on between businesses that want to make money and citizens who want an attractive town,” she said.

“If the reputation of Edmonds declines, the first to suffer would be the businesses.”


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