The signs are a-changing


A recent federal court decision led the City of Sequim to update its portable/temporary signs code. One of the notable approved changes allows businesses and noncommercial garage sales a maximum of two off-site way-finding signs and one on-site sign. Sequim Gazette photos by Matthew Nash


City staff is planning a course of action for enforcing the recently revised portable/temporary signs ordinance in the Sequim Municipal Code.

Significant changes were approved by the city council in a 6-1 vote on July 11, with Erik Erichsen voting no.

Planning Director Chris Hugo said he and Lisa Hopper, code compliance officer, want to provide information and seek cooperation from businesses and citizens rather than acting as policemen.

"Our job is not to just penalize and confiscate signs," Hugo said, "We want compliance. They need a reasonable amount of time to understand the changes."

Staff members intend to speak with business owners not in compliance before moving a sign.

Hugo said in the coming weeks they'll have a plan that applies the city's limited resources on a strategic basis, including providing information through the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce and making more direct contact with businesses owning portable/temporary signs.

Hugo said in his four months in Sequim, he's noticed over-signage as a problem due either to lack of awareness of limitations or the feeling that the city is not ambitious about code enforcement.

In the past few months, city staff have removed signs from public rights of way, such as at crosswalks.

Under the code the city could remove a portable/temporary sign placed
• in an area where it would pose a danger to the public
• where it blocked a sidewalk, making the walkway no longer ADA compliant
• inside roundabouts.

What are the signs?

City Attorney Craig Ritchie said updating the signs ordinance stems from the federal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case with the business Blazing Bagels in Redmond. The court found the city's signs ordinance unconstitutional because it judged signs on content. The court's decision made Sequim's code and other cities' codes unconstitutional.

Since the Redmond decision, Ritchie said, cities are dealing with sign spam and cluttered sidewalks. He said striking a balance wasn't easy since the city must allow the same amount of signage for events such as a library book sale or a blood drive as it allows for business signs, unless special permitting exists.

A lot of changes were made to the portable/temporary code and can be seen at the city's website,, or in person at a city building.

Permits are required for permanent signs and most portable/temporary signs through Public Works, 615 N. Fifth Ave., with fees depending on size and type.

Here are some of the changes within the code:

• Businesses and real estate agents and noncommercial garage sales are allowed a maximum of two off-site way-finding signs and one on-site sign. This could change under amendments to an updated comprehensive plan.

• Portable/temporary signs cannot be placed before 6 a.m. and must be removed 30 minutes after dusk or they must be placed in accordance with regular business hours, whichever is less.

• A portable/temporary sign can remain up for a maximum of 12 months with a gap equal to the duration of posting or 60 days, whichever is longer.

• Signs must be given consent by private property owners and without consent, private property owners can remove them without notifying the sign owner.

• The penalty for violating the code is a Class 2 infraction and a $125 fine.

• Some prohibited signs include animated, rotating signs and/or signs with flashing or lighting; pole signs; signs in the public right-of-way; signs on utility poles, street lights or traffic control devices; festoons; signs with balloons and spinners.

• Special events with a permit are allowed up to 10 portable/temporary signs, not exceeding 8 square feet, for way-finding or traffic regulation. Those who contract with the city as a co-sponsor are allowed up to 20 signs at the same size.

• Garage sale signs: noncommercial garage sales are allowed no more than four times a year per property at no more than four days in a row. Garage/yard sale signs must be on private yards or planting strips with permission and be no larger than 4 square feet with the yard sale homeowner's name, address, phone number and dates of sale on back.

• Political signs do not require sign permits and are allowed if the candidate has declared publicly and/or filed to run for candidacy. Initiative signage can remain up if the measure is going to the ballot or people are working toward that goal. All political signs must be removed within 14 days after an election and are allowed in a landscaped area or parking strip of a property in which the adjacent property owner controls and maintains the area. Their maximum size is 32 square feet per parcel.

• Handheld signs are not exempt unless associated with a community or special event.
• Real estate and garage sale signs do not need a permit unless special cases apply depending on the zone.

Contact Public Works and the Department of Community Development at 683-4908.

Reach Matthew Nash at

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