Last night, as members of the Sunnyside Planning Commission reviewed a draft of an ordinance designed to control placement of signs in the community, there was one concern that kept popping up - the length of the 23-page document.
"I think it's quite lengthy, so I think we have some work ahead of us," said Commissioner Ken Bierlink.
City Attorney Mark Kunkler told the commissioners that it was important to remember that the ordinance sitting in front of them is a draft.
"It's a place to get started," Kunkler said.
He added the proposed sign ordinance touches on several areas over which Sunnyside City Council members have shown some concern. He explained that Council is concerned about the proliferation of temporary signs in the community, noting that these signs can be seen around town hanging from fences and wrapping around buildings. Kunkler said Council is also concerned about the treatment of the city's entryways and ensuring that as visitors enter the community they are greeted with a pleasant sight.
"I think these are some of the very components I tried to capture with this ordinance," Kunkler said.
However, before Kunkler handed the floor over to the commissioners he told them that he has already begun receiving comments from the public about the proposed ordinance. He said people are calling in, concerned about everything from how the ordinance deals with banners to whether or not any considerations will be made for businesses offering seasonal items that need to put out signs about their short shelf life products.
"We certainly welcome comments," Kunkler said. "There is nothing here, in my opinion, that is cast in concrete."
Commissioner Jim Warren noted that the ordinance is a work in progress and something that will have to be worked through before it is adopted.
"I just think it's long," said Commissioner Theresa Hancock. "It needs to be made simpler."
She noted that as the ordinance is written it is confusing as to what is and what is not permitted.
Kunkler said one area of the ordinance he has been receiving the most questions on is a portion listed under outdoor commercial signs.
This section of the sign ordinance states that no temporary outdoor commercial signs will be allowed unless a sign permit is obtained and that such signs have to be placed on a wall. Kunkler noted that this means this type of sign can not be placed on a fence or suspended over a parking lot, according to how the ordinance is currently written. It also states that all temporary outdoor commercial signs must be located on that side of the building that constitutes its primary frontage and that no more than one sign can be displayed by a business at any given time.
This portion of the ordinance also states "...temporary outdoor commercial signs shall not exceed 5 percent of the individual business building face on the primary frontage or 32 square feet, whichever is less." It also adds that any single business is permitted to display temporary outdoor commercial signs for no more than 60 days in any one year.
Kunkler said the portions of that section that deal with the size limitation and the time limit is what has brought up quite a few questions in the community. He said people have called in telling him that 32-square feet is not a large sign and asking what happens if they have more than one product to advertise at any given time.
Kunkler added this is also where concerns are coming from businesses that offer seasonal products and produce. He said often times these businesses will need to have more than one sign out so they can get the produce that is currently in season out to the customers while it is still ripe.
Hancock said a question she had involving the ordinance falls under the category of prohibited signs, where animated signs are listed as not being legal. She said the only animated sign that came to mind when she read that was the marquee in front of the Golden Pheasant in downtown Sunnyside.
"It's not disruptive to traffic," Hancock said of the restaurant's historic signage.
Commissioner Barry Weaver noted that he didn't think it was necessary to put that sort of restriction, on animated signs, into Sunnyside's ordinance.
"I don't think we're trying to regulate the Golden Pheasant sign," Weaver said.
Warren then told the rest of the commission that perhaps they should take a look at what the ordinance says in regards to the community's entryways. Kunkler added that he would like some input on whether or not the entryways identified in the ordinance are the appropriate ones and what kind of corridor the commission feels would make the most sense.
The way the ordinance is currently written, off-premises signs would be prohibited in the designated entryways. At this point the entryways include Yakima Valley Highway to the west, from the westerly city limits to North First Street; Yakima Valley Highway to the east, from the easterly city limits to East Lincoln Avenue; Waneta Road from the southerly city limits to Yakima Valley Highway; and Midvale Road, from Alexander Road to East Lincoln Avenue.
Kunkler said he is currently in the process of doing an evaluation of what signs are currently dotting the city's entryways, noting that he believes there are currently about five billboards, which are considered off-premises signs, in the Sunnyside area.
Commissioner Brent Cleghorn said an important thing to remember when looking at something like this draft sign ordinance is that the commission is not trying to run people out of business.
Weaver agreed with Cleghorn, and told Kunkler that he would like to see some sort of allowance made in the ordinance for those who do offer seasonal items through their businesses.
"Advertising is a vital part of the business community," Warren said. "I think we have to be careful."
Weaver added that there is a difference between using banners and temporary signs to advertise seasonal items than advertising other things.
"Whether or not Stokes has asparagus I don't know. Whether or not a grocery store has beer, I do know," Weaver said, explaining the importance of allowing businesses that offer seasonal items to use signs to advertise their wares.
"We have to make a distinction somewhere," Warren said.
Although most of the commissioners voiced concern over the length of the document, Kunkler explained that a document like this has to be extremely detailed to account for situations that could come down the pike.
"We need to be careful," he said. "If it's shorter, it needs to be concise."
Hancock said she feels the ordinance is fairly restrictive and would like to see some of the clutter dropped from the document.
"I'd like to loosen it up a little bit," she said.
Community member Ray Johnson asked the commissioners if the ordinance was going to include in its entryways restrictions every road that leads into Sunnyside.
"So it's a uniform thing," Johnson said.
Warren noted that the entryways is one thing commissioners are still looking at.
Johnson added that he feels the city of Sunnyside is trying to be dictatorial by looking to adopt an ordinance like the one sitting in front of the commissioners.
Tom Paul, a Prosser resident who owns property along South First Street in Sunnyside, across from Bi-Mart, said he was emailed a copy of the original draft of the sign ordinance, which was 25 pages at that point.
"It looks like we're starting to make some good progress," he said, noting that two pages have already been shaved off of the document.
Paul said he did have a couple of concerns in regards to the sign ordinance, noting that it doesn't include anything about "freedom of speech" signs or signs that speak out against the government.
He added that he also feels that off-premise signs, such as billboards, are important to a community. Paul said they help direct visitors to the community into Sunnyside, pointing where areas of interest might be.
"It just promotes business," Paul said.
Overall, Paul said he thinks the sheer size of the ordinance is too much, but added that it does seem like the city is on the right track.
"It's just going to take a lot of input from the community," he said.
Dean Stokes, the owner of Burger Ranch, said when he first saw the ordinance he thought there was a lot there.
He said in looking at the ordinance he was concerned that strings of pennants were listed under prohibited signs. Stokes said he can remember back to when he hung a string of American flag pennants from his Burger Ranch sign, noting that soon after he did business increased.
"Over the years I've seen advertising in every form and fashion," Stokes said.
He also asked the commission to consider whether or not his outdoor menu board is considered a sign. He added that he feels the commission should not look at banning banners.
"Don't deprive them (visitors) of seeing what the community of Sunnyside has to offer," Stokes said.
Community member Carol Stone said she would like to see the size of the ordinance reduced.
"I think it's very lengthy," she said. "I would like to see it reduced in size and simpler to understand."
Stone added that the commission also has to take into account not only the wording of the ordinance, but how it will be enforced.
Kunkler said more community input will be requested as the ordinance begins to take shape, noting that in the next few weeks he hopes to put together a photo presentation of different types of signs so the Planning Commission can decide what should and should not be included in the ordinance.