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Board of Adjustment refuses to reconsider S'side billboard decision

Sunnyside Board of Adjustment members who voted last month in favor of a conditional use permit allowing a billboard at 1600 S. First Street in Sunnyside refused a request by city staff members last night to make a motion to reconsider their decision. The refusal to reconsider leaves the city one alley of recourse, which is to appeal the decision to the Sunnyside City Council.

As of last night the city staff had not made a determination as to if it planned to make the appeal. The city initially recommended denying the construction of the billboard until the final plans for the improvements to South First Street have been made.

Board of Adjustment member Craig Miller began discussion on the issue last night by saying that it was against Robert's Rules of Order for the city to bring up the billboard issue. Rather, he said, it should be one of the members of the board who voted in favor of the billboard asking for a reconsideration.

The city filed a request for reconsideration after the Board of Adjustment voted 3-1 in favor of allowing a conditional use permit to erect an off-premises advertising billboard on the same property where one has stood for the past 13 years.

Property owner Tom Paul of Prosser had leased the land needed for the sign to a company for most of that time. Recently, though, he decided to directly deal with potential advertisers. The company with which he had been dealing wouldn't allow Paul to use their billboard, so they removed it, which required Paul to re-apply for a conditional use permit to erect a new 20x8-foot sign.

"I could have gone into negotiations with the people who had the sign if I had known the city didn't want to give me the permit," said Paul in an interview this morning (Thursday).

City Attorney Mark Kunkler likened the request for reconsideration to a court hearing in which either side has an opportunity to appeal. He explained that in each request to the Board of Adjustment there are two sides, the applicant and the city.

"We're still in favor of what decision we made last meeting," said Board of Adjustment member Craig Miller. "We haven't seen anything or heard anything to change our view."

Kunkler explained that part of the reconsideration process is to hear more from both sides.

One of his questions was if the board placed any conditions, such as a location of the sign or timeline as to when the sign can be erected, on the billboard when granting the conditional use permit. Kunkler explained that since it is a new application and a new right being issued, conditions can be placed on the sign.

Miller said that no conditions were placed on the billboard because the city staff had recommended the board deny the construction of the billboard, and there were no conditions recommended by staff.

One of Paul's arguments for not delaying his plans was that the city was planning to make the improvements to the road, much as they have several times before, but the road improvements have not been made.

Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell made it clear Wednesday night that the city is more than just planning to improve the road. He said about $3 million has been allocated to the road redesign, which will improve the look of the entrance into Sunnyside, as well as make the street more functional. He explained that one of the reasons Sunnyside was granted the state and federal grant dollars was because the entrances to the community don't reflect what the community is about. He said key to the grant support were the blighted entrances to Sunnyside and that now is the time for the town to put its best foot forward and put the money to good use.

Stockwell said this decision gives the board an opportunity to look at billboards in entryways and how they affect traffic, neighborhoods and overall aesthetics.

He anticipates that roadway improvements will begin in early 2005 and could be completed as soon as late next winter.

Paul said he would try to keep the sign out of the way.

"In the worst case the city would have to pay $500 or $1,000 to move the sign. I'm not willing to spend the money to move the sign myself. Why should I be financially responsible for a road that's being proposed?" he added.

Board of Adjustment member Rick Berk pointed out that the codes allow for billboards to be erected.

"They allow it, but it's not a right," answered back Stockwell. "A person seeking a conditional use permit has no right. You can choose not to grant a privilege or you can grant it with conditions."

Paul said he believes the city won't drop the issue.

"They're vindictive now," he said. "Now they're talking about signs being a plague to the town."

With no retirement plan, Paul said that the billboard, which brings in between $600 and $800 a month, is part of his retirement plan.

"If the city doesn't like signs they should put a moratorium on no more signs," said Paul. "I can see where the city needs to regulate them."

Paul said he believes city officials were only using the roadway improvements as an excuse to prevent him from building his sign.

"The new issue now is that it's a privilege and not a right to have a sign," said Paul, who believes he should be able to do whatever he wants on his property.

He said he first learned of the city's intent to ask the board to reconsider its decision late last week in a letter from Kunkler. It was shortly after that he erected a sign, calling for the termination of Kunkler, on the plot of land on which he hopes to construct a billboard.

"It's not the city officials' business to get vindictive," said Paul. "They don't know what they're getting into.

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