Sign code update may light up Oak Harbor electronically

Small town Oak Harbor may get a bigger city feel if the council decides to amend its sign code.

The proposed changes, recommended by the planning commission, would allow commercial property owners along Midway Boulevard and Highway 20 to replace an existing sign with an electronic message board, a type of sign with scrolling or changing text.

Jill Johnson, Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce executive director, favors the technology, calling it a more modern approach that could foster community bonding.

"The signs can address a community cause," she said, explaining that local businesses would have the ability to electronically recognize winning sports teams, community achievements and the return of Navy squadrons.

The current code does not allow for electronic message signs in Oak Harbor, which leaves word boards, vinyl banners and other signs with stationary messages as the primary option for signage within the city.

The word board signs can look tacky because letters often fall off, Johnson said, adding that electronic signs will be more aesthetically pleasing.

"There's a difference between community character and junk," she said, referring to a number of aging signs in Oak Harbor.

Although the Whidbey Island Scenic Isle Way Corridor Management Plan designated Highway 20 as a "scenic byway" in 2005, which minimizes the amount of signs allowed along the roadway, the plan does allow island communities to use their judgement for urban ares of Highway 20.

Dr. E.L. Burge of Harborview Vision Clinic supports electronic signs for an entirely different reason.

"The Kiplinger Letter, Fall 2008, stated that the most efficient cost of advertising is the digital sign," he told the planning commission. "My telephone advertising budget for the past five years was $34,800 of which $30,311 was sent to Verizon Directories in Dallas, Texas. I would rather spend that money in Oak Harbor."

Randy Bradford, manager of Coachman Inn and Jason Tritt, owner of Flyers Restaurant and Brewery, also spoke in support of the amendment.

Not everyone is pleased with the possible addition of electronic reader board signs to Oak Harbor's landscape.

"As an editorial note, I wish we had no signs," Keith Fakkema said before making a motion to recommend City Council's approval of the proposed sigh code amendments.

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