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City planners put the brakes on sign ordinance

After much discussion, the Sunnyside Planning Commission took a very important step Wednesday night in regards to the implementation of the city's new sign ordinance.

Instead of pushing forward with the implementation of the entire 24-page ordinance, several commissioners suggested that the ordinance be broken down and implemented piece by piece.

"I'm somewhat frustrated because we've been working at this for months," said Commissioner Barry Weaver, noting that after spending so much time on the ordinance the commission seems no closer to having a workable document.

Weaver suggested instead of looking at the document as a whole, the commission should look at the pieces they feel are the most important at the moment.

Weaver and Commissioner Brent Cleghorn suggested the Planning Commission first take on the portions of the sign ordinance dealing with the entrances into town and the issue of temporary signs.

Weaver noted that examing the ordinance piece by piece will allow the commission to "sweat all the little things" section by section, instead of picking apart the 24-page document and not making much progress.

The commission is hopeful that breaking the ordinance up into smaller pieces will mean that the sign ordinance will be implemented sooner, rather than later.

The decision to take the sign ordinance and implement it piece by piece was reached after listening to several members of the audience.

Carol Stone asked commissioners why they were pushing such a lengthy sign ordinance when the ordinance the city currently has in place is not being enforced.

"Make the rules that are on the books now really be enforced and that will send more of a message," Stone said.

Stone also suggested that the commission implement the suggested sign ordinance piece by piece, noting that as other issues come up the sign ordinance can be broadened to include those new concerns.

Dean Stokes, owner of Burger Ranch, had several questions about the language in the proposed sign ordinance, adding that he wanted to know why the city was trying to limit business owners to only putting up one temporary sign at a time.

Stokes said his business, which is located on Yakima Valley Highway, has traffic approaching it from both sides.

"If I'm only allowed to put up one sign, do I put up the sign on one side one day and move it to the other side the next day?," Stokes asked. "Why can't we have two signs?"

Stokes said at times he has as many as four banners up at his business.

"I look at the banner as having economic importance for my business," Stokes said.

Looking at the sign ordinance, Stokes said he was also concerned about language that would require business owners with non-conforming signs to replace those signs within a nine-year period. Stokes said instead of making small business owners foot the bill for a new sign because it doesn't fit the new ordinance, existing signs should be grandfathered in and allowed to stay.

"As a business owner I don't want to have to replace a sign I don't have to," Stokes said.

Cleghorn chipped in that he doesn't want to see the sign ordinance hurt small business owners.

"I don't want to hurt our people," Cleghorn said. "We're trying to improve the look of our city, not to drive businesses out of the city."

Another issue that arose during the meeting was how to deal with temporary banners, specifically banners advertising alcohol sales.

City Attorney Mark Kunkler said over the past few weeks he has been looking into whether or not it is possible to regulate signs based on their content alone. He noted that there has been a court case that has made it known that cities can't restrict tobacco advertising.

However, when it comes to alcohol advertising, Kunkler said he may have found a way to limit the placement of those advertising banners.

He said after some initial research it looks as though the state has ultimate control over things like liquor licenses, but that the cities seem to have some latitude when it comes to outdoor advertising.

Kunkler said it seems to him that it would be possible to limit that type of advertising near schools, churches and play fields. He said the first step to making this happen would be for the city to pass an ordinance making it unlawful for alcohol advertising to be placed in sight of its city parks. Kunkler said that then the Sunnyside School Board would have to pass a resolution stating that it is unacceptable for alcohol advertising to be placed in sight of its school grounds.

Kunkler said this is something he will explore further. He added that although this idea may help take care of alcohol advertising in the community, it doesn't address other issues related to temporary banners. He said the sign ordinance would still be needed to take care of things like how large signs can be, how long they can stay up and how many signs a business can have up at a time.

The Sunnyside Planning Commission will meet again on Wednesday, Sept. 14, to discuss the sections of the sign ordinance dealing with the entrances into town, as well as temporary signs.

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