Redmond city staff reexamining ordinances regarding A-frame signs for businesses

For anyone in search of Blazing Bagels in Redmond for the first time, it can be a little hard to find.

Dennis Ballen

Dennis Ballen

For anyone in search of Blazing Bagels in Redmond for the first time, it can be a little hard to find.

Located at 6975 176th Ave. N.E., Suite 365, owner and head bagel Dennis Ballen said a lot of customers get turned around because his storefront is actually on Northeast 70th Street and the surrounding industrial area can get confusing. Because of this, the Redmond resident puts out a number of signs to direct people to his store and like many small business owners in Redmond, he said the signs bring in traffic just by letting people know where he is.

OUT OF HAND

But with an increasing amount of businesses not in compliance with the City of Redmond’s ordinance regarding A-frame signs — or sandwich-board signs — city staff are revisiting the regulations to try and control the situation.

“I think we all agreed (the signs are) getting out of hand,” said Council member David Carson about his fellow Council members at a recent work session meeting during which they raised their concerns about the issue.

City of Redmond planning and community development director Rob Odle said Council has asked him and his staff to take another look at the ordinance, which allows for one sandwich-board sign per business in a commercial area, and see if there is a way they can enhance or make changes to the enforcement process. Possible solutions include adjusting the code enforcement officers’ hours to include weekends since more businesses put out signs during this time, instilling a warning system in the enforcement process and upping the fine for violators.

“We’re still looking at that,” Odle said. “We’ve looked at a number of different options and we’ll report back to (Council) in January.”

He said the exact date has not been set, but it would probably be sometime in the middle of the month. Additionally, Odle said they will spend about six months evaluating any proposed solutions to see if any further action needs to be taken.

A HISTORY WITH THE LAW

Carson said one way to control the situation is to ban the signs completely, but this was not an action Council wanted to take as they understand signs help drive a business’s traffic — especially with the current recession.

“We understand it’s a difficult economy,” Carson said.

Ballen attended the work session meeting and said all but one Council member seemed to understand the importance of signage for small businesses.

“I was actually impressed,” he said.

Ballen, who has a legal history with the City of Redmond, had reason to be concerned about any action taken regarding A-frame signs.

He sued the city in 2003, when officials tried to enforce restrictions on his ability to put out signs for his business. Ballen was represented by the Institute for Justice, which is based in Washington D.C., but has a local state chapter.

He said they took the case up to the 9th District Court of Appeals — the final step before the U.S. Supreme Court — and it was ruled that the City of Redmond’s orders were infringing on his right to free speech.

Ballen said he realizes a lot of signs can cause visual clutter in concentrated areas such as downtown and understands the city’s concerns.

“Out here though, because you can get lost in here, I have more signs,” he said.

DRIVING TRAFFIC

Anne St. Germain (right), owner of McDonald’s Book Exchange at 16415 N.E. 83rd St. in downtown Redmond, has been in business for 30 years and in her current location for about six. At her previous location on Northeast 87th Street, she put out A-frame signs, but the City of Redmond made her take them down at one point and St. Germain’s business took a hit.

“Right after they made me take all my signs down, that one month, our business went down about a quarter to a third,” she said. “It makes a huge difference.”

St. Germain said people assumed that because there was no sign out, her store was closed and just kept driving.

“Signs generate more business than any other form of advertising I’ve done,” she said.

Charlene Plympton, a Sammamish resident and regular customer at McDonald’s, said she understands both the desire to keep the city free of junky signs and clutter and the need for businesses to advertise.

Plympton used to live on the East Coast about 15 years ago and was part of a civilian group that worked with her town’s planning and zoning department on sign ordinances.

“It was the most difficult thing that we did,” she said.

While figuring out the rules may be difficult, Plympton appreciates signs as a driver and consumer.

“It helps a lot if I’m trying to find something,” she explained.

Plympton suggested a standard sign size, shape and color scheme requirement to keep things uniform. She also said the law should require signs to be a certain distance away from a corner and not allow a clutter of several different signs.

RULED BY COMMON SENSE

While signage is extremely important to small businesses, Ballen said he understands some of the rules such as those prohibiting signs from being on the sidewalk and within a certain distance from the business.

He added that the rules should be the same for everyone, though. This includes realtors, who are allowed three signs in a residential area. Both he and Carson said this is where education becomes key because businesses need to know what they can and cannot do.

However, Ballen said business owners just need to think things through when putting out their signs and they would be in compliance.

“If you’re not going to use your common sense, you deserve to have your sign taken away,” he said.


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