May 4, 1998
City Council passes sign code
by Andrew Walgamott
WOODINVILLE--The Woodinville City Council unanimously passed into law its new sign code last week after two years of work on the 17-page document. The new code, which takes effect May 9, is incentive based and is more specific in the look the city wants to present with its signs. "We're trying to make signage in town more attractive," Mayor Don Brocha said. "Of course, we still want it to be useful." The city will also make a stronger effort to enforce the code than in the past. That will be pretty easy, though, since enforcement in the past has been voluntary.
Still, the city is expecting some trouble. An estimated three-quarters of the signs in town are nonconforming. Those signs will have to be brought into compliance when a percentage of the sign changes or suffers damage. Jeff Shaw, executive director of the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce, said the city and chamber will meet at a July luncheon to discuss the new code. "I would suggest [the businessowners] come and see what the details are and find out how the city plans to enforce the code," he said.
The new code
Under the new code, businesses who use certain colors and materials on new mall, perimeter or monument signs could double their sign face's square footage. Conversely, it means that if businesses don't follow the city's incentives, their signs would be limited in size. "What we're trying to accomplish is to maintain the Northwest woodlands' character that the residents told us was important," Stephanie Cleveland, a city planner, said last week. The city recommends the use of muted tones and natural materials. Taco Bell purple isn't among the color choices.
Sign faces would have dark backgrounds with light writing, what Cleveland called "a movement away from internally lit signs." A-boards, or sandwich boards which some businesses in the back of malls use, are illegal under the new code. Businesses without street frontage would be forced to buy into mall, perimeter or monument signs instead.
The council decided against amortizing billboards, that is, setting a time for their removal. "The idea that we're going to force folks to do something was a stumbling block [for the council]," Brocha said. "But I think we've come up with a good compromise." Instead, if those signs are damaged in excess of 50 percent their value, they will have to be taken down.
It's much the same story for other non-conforming signs that were permitted at one point but under the new code wouldn't be. The code establishes conditions when those signs would have to be brought into compliance. For instance, a non-conforming sign would have to brought up to code if it undergoes a name change or 20 percent of its lettering, color or structure is changed. "We're not forcing anyone to change, but as sign use changes or property redevelops, then we're trying to make nonconforming signs go away," Brocha said. Asked how many signs in the city were non-conforming, Cleveland said, "It will probably be a high percentage because the code is changing so drastically."Examples of such signs include Woodinville Spoke and Ski and DeYoung's Farm and Garden. The city plans to enforce its code and will hire a staffmember for that. Owners of illegal signs will be sent a notice that they are in violation of the sign code. "We are definitely willing to work with property owners," Cleveland said.
The new code is the result of two years' work between the Planning Commission, two citizens' advisory panels made up of representatives of the business community and direction from the City Council. Brocha said the time involved was "indicative of how difficult it is to make changes." People can still apply for signage under the old code if the city determines they've submitted a completed application before May 9. The sign code, along with the city's interim design principles and streetscape standards, are important in how Woodinville will look in the future, Brocha said. Anyone with questions on the new code can contact Cleveland at 489-2700.