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Skunkworks owner still seething
Linda Chamness, the owner of the new Skunkworks Auto Detailing shop on Washington Street, is still steaming.
Since she moved her business from Third Avenue two months ago, she’s been battling with City Hall over the pole sign that sits on the southeastern corner of her property. The sign refers to a long-defunct auto repair business, which Chamness says continues to draw disappointed drivers on Washington Street.
She added that she had planned to spend “a grand” redoing the sign, but that’s not possible under city code. City officials say Bill Littlejohn, owner of the property, has two choices: take it down or leave it as is.
Chamness says that just doesn’t make common sense.
She notes that she’s only there for the time being; Littlejohn has plans eventually to remove her business and put in a development on that lot and the one adjacent that he also owns.
Chamness already has revised her business plan: She had hoped to wash her customers’ cars, but under city code, that can’t be done, so she brings them to the Kettel’s 76 station down the street. The city did provide some leeway on several items. They declared that cars on the lot awaiting servicing are parked there, not serviced there, which would have been disallowed.
And Chris Hugo, the city’s planning director, has declared the old Texaco sign that graces the front is a piece of “nostalgia art,” allowing it to stay in place.
But the city still is taking the heat for the decision regarding the sign. Chamness said 75-80 percent of her customers mention the dispute.
E-mails collected from the city through a Gazette Public Records Act request show officials also are hearing from constituents.
In one exchange, Peter Ignatjev wrote to Mayor Ken Hays, blasting what he calls “ridiculous, antiquated, pointless codes the city has in place regarding signage.”
He continued, “As a retired small business owner I am well aware of what it takes to run a business and it seems like the city is intentionally harassing our local owners for no purpose.”
He cited the complaints from Randy Wellman, the owner of Tarcisio’s Restaurant, and added, “The city wastes time and effort to thwart their common sense requests.”
Hays fired back, saying the pole sign at Skunkworks is a remnant of an earlier time and “an earlier, old-fashioned drive-through community ….”
Hays added, “The temporary building is not a good fit for the downtown regardless of what those who like to perpetuate conflict think, nor is it important to simply fill every vacant space with whatever small business that comes along. Allowing such a small business as a temporary use is fine but to grant it the full privileges that an allowed business would have is ridiculous.”
In another e-mail Hugo expressed his support for the mayor, noting that, “Ken’s excellent response” would and should be part of “this records request.”
Chamness disagrees, saying it’s about respect. “We have a mayor state he’d rather see this building empty than have just anything here?”
“I employ two people, plus my income. That’s three people not on unemployment or food stamps. He still gets his property tax, he still gets his sales tax.”
The records provided by the city didn’t include an additional exchange of e-mails between Hays and Ignatjev in which Ignatjev takes further exception to Hays’ comments. “I think it is important to fill vacant space with local businesses. I had no idea you had such an indifferent attitude towards supporting our residents who would like to have a business here. There is nothing worse than seeing dozens and dozens of empty stores and ‘dead’ shopping centers when you drive through town where there once were businesses.”
Hays denied the presence of “dozens of empty stores,” and asked for the names of the “many business owners” Ignatjev said he had heard express their concerns.
Hays declined to be interviewed regarding the e-mails, writing in an e-mail to the Gazette that, “If the e-mails you referred to are the exchange between myself and Peter I., I have nothing else to add to what was said in those e-mails, which were, of course, my opinions on the pole signs, the history of the code in Sequim and not related to any code enforcement issues regarding Skunk Works.”
In another e-mail, Hugo provided an extensive defense of the code, saying, “As time passes, so do community expectations for what is wanted for community image and character. If you take a trip down Washington Street today, the only pole signs you will see are vestiges of the pre-bypass era when Washington was the through-route and most uses were oriented to car traffic.”
Back to the sign
Hugo also has written that once the Skunkworks site was vacant for a year, the right to use the sign ended. He said Littlejohn was aware of the rule before he signed a lease with Chamness. Littlejohn, he said, “has plans to remove the pole anyway when the property redevelops.”
In an interview in early April, Littlejohn said he disagrees with the city’s interpretation, saying, “If the sign is still there, it’s in use.”
He added, “When the government pins themselves in a corner, it doesn’t make sense to have some kind of silly rules.”
Hugo says the city has done all it can do. “Although no one in the City has the authority to ignore the … code, we did apply as much discretion as we could to ensure the Texaco property has plenty of sign opportunities … they just can’t be on that pole that was determined 16 years ago should eventually go away.”
Hays sent another e-mail to the Gazette, saying, “As for uses allowed in the Downtown Sub Area, anything goes except a short list of uses deemed by our consultant to be incompatible with a downtown walking/shopping environment. There was a public hearing and many public meetings on the downtown sub area plan and nobody complained about the exceptions proposed by our consultant.”
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.