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Sign code a go for Sunnyside

After months of debate and discussion, the Sunnyside City Council finally adopted a sign code during Monday's council meeting.

But agreement didn't come easy, as council members spent nearly two hours parsing through the 24-page code paragraph by paragraph.

The new sign code takes effect Dec. 18 and some of its impact will be felt immediately.

Outdoor advertising of alcoholic beverages visible to schools, playgrounds and parks will be banned. Further, the advertising can be removed subject to complaints by churches that are within view of the signs.

Council went with staff recommendation over the planning commission's because of data provided by staff claiming that youngsters may be more prone to drink because of the messages they see.

Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar expressed concern on behalf of the businesses that may lose income because of the sign ban.

"How hard is it to understand that a convenience store sells alcohol?" City Manager Bob Stockwell responded, indicating that signs aren't needed to point out that fact.

In other areas, though, council went with the planning commission's recommendation.

One particular tug-of-war was over whether existing signs that violate the new code should be grandfathered in or amortized over a period of nine years.

Rooftop signs and those with flashing lights are banned under the new code.

Staff recommended the amortization route, noting that nine years offers enough time for a business to write off the value of their sign before it is removed.

Billboard owner Tom Paul argued that amortization is just another way of taking private property.

Councilman Mike Farmer said he was completely opposed to amortization. "I don't see how we can tell a guy he has to remove a sign when he has had it for years."

Councilman-elect Bruce Epps challenged council members to count up existing signs and ask business owners what a new sign would cost.

"I'm with you, Mike," he said. "I'd like to see council grandfather in the old signs. It's extremely expensive to replace a sign."

On the other hand, Councilman Paul Garcia felt something had to be done to gradually phase out signs that violate the new code.

Council eventually did away with the amortization, voting to grand-father in all existing signs.

The one sign category that will be amortized over nine years are off-premise signs or billboards in city entryways. The three entryways designated by council are Yakima Valley Highway - West Entry, Waneta Interchange - South Entry and Midvale Road - South First Street.

Billboards in any of those three areas will have to be removed within nine years.

After some discussion it was believed that the only billboard in the entry ways was Paul's debated billboard on South First Street.

Paul, in turn, hinted at further legal action by him and his lawyer against the city's decision, which effectively removes the billboard later rather than sooner.

Council approved the sign code with Aguilar casting the lone no vote.

Mayor Ed Prilucik said a synopsis of the new sign code will be mailed along with business license renewals early next year. A copy of the new code is also available at city hall.

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