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City issues first sign ordinance citation
By MARK ST.J. COUHIG
An ongoing disagreement over the City of Sequim’s new temporary signs ordinance has kept many in the business community riled up for months, but this week the first-ever fine was issued.
The fine, for a Tarcisio Italian Place sign, will likely cost Tarcisio’s owner Randy Wellman $125.
Wellman placed a free-standing temporary sign on the sidewalk near Washington Street advertising his business.
The citation was issued to the Sequim Village Shopping Center, where Tarcisio’s is located, but Wellman said, “I’ll end up paying it.”
Sequim Director of Community Development Chris Hugo, whose job description includes code compliance, said the payment details “are between Wellman and his landlord.”
Hugo said he also has spent a great deal of time, and the city has spent “thousands,” trying to convince Wellman to follow the rules.
He said he has spent considerable time talking with Wellman on the phone.
The citation only was issued after 18 months of conversations, he added.
Hugo noted that as a result of earlier complaints by Wellman and others in the business community, the signs ordinance has been revised. It formerly disallowed the use of A-frame freestanding signs on the sidewalks in front of strip mall stores if the signs could be seen from the street. That provision has been removed.
A new provision allowing the landlord to place a sign with a replaceable placard near the street also has been written into the ordinance.
“The council has made special provisions (for strip malls),” Hugo said. “And he has failed to take advantage of it. We can’t allow anyone to flagrantly ignore the law. Most people are abiding by it,” he noted. “How many are violating the ordinance? Maybe 10 of hundreds.”
Hugo added that issuing a citation is the last step in the enforcement process.
“Our interest is in compliance. We take five or six steps to find a solution. We don’t do this lightly.”
But, he added, it’s a matter of “equity.”
“I feel responsible to those who aren’t violating our code.”
Wellman shrugged at the fine, saying he had no choice. “I need to make sure my 17 employees have a job,” he said.
He added that Michelle Ridgway, whose Sun Valley Realty manages the mall, “feels bad about the citation. She feels like she’s the bad guy. She’s not the bad guy.”
He added that his issue remains the same: He’s asking for the same right to place a sign on the sidewalk that is extended to businesses in the downtown corridor.
“It’s because I’m in a strip mall,” he said. “But how can it be different in every block?”
Wellman has since set up his sign on the flat bed of a truck parked near the sidewalk.
If the city declares that as a temporary sign it continues to be unlawful, he’ll make it a permanent sign. “I’ll weld it to the truck,” he said.
He pointed to a panel truck displaying the logo and information for 5th Avenue Furniture, a neighbor in the shopping center. “That’s advertising, too,” he said.
A new issue
Hugo said the issue of temporary signs is relatively new. “I think it’s ironic — before we had one (particular) vendor soliciting on the street, you didn’t see it.”
Hugo agreed the issue arose over the use of hand-held signs by touts hired by a local gold-buying services.
“The others said, ‘He gets to do that?’”
“It’s blossomed since then.”
Hugo agreed it’s tough to write a signs ordinance that suits everyone. “It’s a difficult thing to get it right and fair — and not have the city littered with signs. It’s a balancing act.”
He said he believes the stretch of Washington Street on Sequim’s west side provides a prime example of what the city should be shooting for, citing the lack of street-side signs and the trees that line the street.
Hugo also addressed the issue of inconsistent enforcement, saying he has just one enforcement official, who also is in charge of animal control and nuisance abatements.
“And me,” he said.
Mike Hallis, who owns Jeremiah’s BBQ in Sequim, also has been a vocal opponent of the new ordinance. He said Hugo and other “newcomers” in city management may be part of the problem.
“Nobody down there has any experience in Sequim,” he said. “They come in with all of these ideas of how things should be done.”
The old-timers, including Wellman and himself, have been in the city for decades, he said, and through that time have dedicated themselves to serving the community.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.