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Emergency moratorium bans new signs from going up

Signs of all kinds have become a growing problem in Sunnyside over the past few years, believe some. This past Monday night, the Sunnyside City Council made a statement by declaring an emergency moratorium on erecting any new signs for 90 days.

"We don't have a comprehensive sign ordinance in the city," said City Manager Bob Stockwell. "There needs to be reasonable regulations."

Under the City of Sunnyside's definition, signs include "permanent signs affixed to the ground or a building or other structure; portable or temporary signs, including banners, pennants and other temporary signs."

Stockwell said the city has been facing problems for years with people leaving signs and banners around town without anything in place to regulate the use of such materials.

The city's problems with the use of signs has become even more evident with the attention local contractor Tom Paul has gained with the signs he has erected on his property along South First Street. The signs include descriptive phrases of local city government and the community as a whole.

Stockwell said the only way for city staff to deal with the problem of signs is to enact a 90-day moratorium banning the erection of any new materials. During the moratorium, no one will be allowed to apply for a sign permit. Stockwell said the moratorium will not affect current signs in place or applications that are being processed.

During the moratorium, Stockwell said the city staff can work on developing a sign ordinance that will deal with the issue. Stockwell said during the process the city staff will gather input from the public, the local business community and the Sunnyside Planning Commission.

Stockwell did point out the City Council does have the right to extend the moratorium to 180 days if it feels it is necessary to do so.

Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar encouraged city staff to jump on the issue right away, limiting the moratorium to 60 days.

"I think this is an emergency and we need to get staff working on (it)," said Aguilar.

Stockwell said reducing the moratorium to 60 days will not allow staff enough time to work on the issue.

Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer said the city is in need of a sign ordinance, but wasn't content with the way the issue is being addressed.

Councilman Don Vlieger explained he wanted to make sure the city was not stepping on people's right to free speech with the use of their signs. He wants to see the city stick to regulations that govern the square footage of a sign. Stockwell agreed with Vlieger's assessment.

Stockwell added that part of the ordinance the city staff will be working on will include how to address those who are not in compliance with the code.

Farmer cast the lone vote against imposing the emergency moratorium, which passed 5-1 in the absence of Mayor Ed Prilucik.

Sunnyside Board of Adjustment member Juan Aguilar quizzed the Council afterwards about the issue.

Aguilar said he was curious if the city would be seeking to form a committee of residents to work on the sign ordinance, as it declared in the publicized agenda. Kunkler admitted the wording on the agenda was a mistake, but said public input will be more than welcomed at the public hearing on the issue, which the city is required to have within 60 days. Kunkler also conceded that the issue of declaring an emergency moratorium on signs and how to address that is something that just came before city staff.

"This is a very new development," said Kunkler. "Staff would like an opportunity to put our heads together."

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