Vancouver looks at sign regulations

Planning Commission to hear suggestions for code amendments

The Vancouver Planning Commission is scheduled to hear views on sign regulations at a work session Dec. 13. The focus of the meeting is on regulations that are difficult to implement and those that need clarification.

The city has anticipated an update to the sign code for several years, said Development Review Services Planner Azam Babar.

"The Planning Commission is anxious to move ahead with the updates because (the city has) made some changes incrementally, and the commission has indicated that they would like a more comprehensive approach and not continuously make incremental changes," said Babar.

Though a wholesale rewrite is not anticipated, Babar said the commission could decide to dispose of the code and start from scratch.

Some recent changes include the allowance of A-board signs in the city’s public right of way and a revision relating to the size and number of commercial real estate signs on a property.

Babar said the purpose of the upcoming meeting is to "determine what the issues are that we need to explore as part of revising our sign code."

The city has solicited comments from industry representatives, including sign and real estate companies, said Babar. And city staff members who handle permitting have made requests for clarification of some regulations.

Suggestions include clarification to code language where needed and review and clarify definitions as necessary, include illustrations to clarify language, develop a consistent format, include all regulations in a single chapter, address needs for special events and temporary signs on private property and simplify provisions for fascia signs.

Local sign companies are the real users of the code, said Babar.

Mike Starks, owner of Soha Sign Co., said he educates clients about sign regulations.

"I usually inform them what the regulations are and then they have the choice whether to follow them or not," he said.

Advanced Electric Sign co-owner Susan Slack said the company must work within the regulations when installing signs for customers.

"You have to," said Slack. "There is no way around it."

In many cases, sign companies work with the city to obtain sign permits for clients.

Sign companies say they are comfortable with most requirements of the sign code.

"It sounds funny coming from an old sign guy," said Gary Cromer, owner of Sign-A-Rama Sign Co., "but I don’t want our town to look like a tinsel town."

Cromer said the city’s regulations are necessary to prevent Vancouver signage from becoming an eyesore, like he said some parts of Highway 99 have become.

As times change, said Starks, sign regulations will always be under review.

Starks worries that electronic message centers will eventually be outlawed downtown.

"I think those are actually valuable tools that need to be protected in certain applications," he said.

Slack said most signs in the city are within compliance, but she said some businesses get away with some things.

Compliance is typically complaint driven, which sign companies say works well.

"It actually works okay," said Starks. "If a community or business abuses it and nobody calls in they can control themselves."

Compared with other jurisdictions, Cromer said the city has an efficient sign permitting process. With the proper documentation, permits are issued on the spot, he said. Conversely, it may take the county three to six weeks to issue a permit, Cromer added.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hear views on the sign code from 5:40 p.m to 6:10 p.m. on Dec. 13 in City Hall Council Chambers. Babar encourages businesses to attend.

"We are hoping to that they can identify for us what some of the issues are that they would like for us to address," said Babar.

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