Oak Harbor considers new digital sign rules

Digital signs like the one advertising Flyers Restaurant have sprung up around Oak Harbor. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Digital signs like the one advertising Flyers Restaurant have sprung up around Oak Harbor.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor planners are working to update city code to keep up with advances in digital sign technology.

The draft proposal would allow digital signs with video and text in most of the commercial areas of the city while setting limits on their size and brightness.

Senior Planner Ethan Spoo said the number of digital signs in the city multiplied over the last few years as technological advances  decreased their cost while increasing their size.

Flyers Restaurant and the new building for Island Drug, for example, both have digital signs.

It was just four years ago when the City Council adopted an amendment to the sign code that allowed “electronic message centers,” which are defined as signs capable of displaying words or symbols that can be electronically or mechanically changed.

That update, however, is already outdated.

Digital signs are distinguished from electronic message centers by their video capability.

The signs can use light emitting diodes, liquid crystal displays, plasma or projection technology.

Members of the Ad Hoc Economic Development Committee first proposed a digital-sign code last year.

Spoo said the members believed that digital signs could be a boost for businesses.

The planning department and the Oak Harbor Planning Commission have taken up the issue, resulting in a draft code amendment.

The commission is scheduled to consider the draft again this month and the members may forward it to the City Council for possible adoption.

“The planning commission has been very careful in their thought process,” Development Services Director Steve Powers said.

“They tried to anticipate if there will be any impacts to surrounding properties and, if so, how do we mitigate that.”

Under the proposed draft, digital signs will be allowed in industrial and commercial areas, except downtown. The signs must be directed away from adjacent residential or open-space properties.

No digital sign will be allowed within 100 feet of residentially zoned or open-space properties.

The signs will be limited to 100 square feet in size and only one will be allowed per property.

The draft proposal also sets limits on luminance.

According to Spoo, any current digital signs that are non-conforming will be “grandfathered in.”

The planning commission hasn’t received much input on the proposed amendment, Powers said, but there still plenty of time for people to weigh in.

The planning commission meets Tuesday, May 28.

The Oak Harbor City Council will hold a public hearing on the issue before it is adopted.


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