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Electronic sign goes to court

The owner of an Oak Harbor motel is suing the city over a sign.

Harbor Lands Co., owner of the Coachman Inn, claims that the city violated its First Amendment rights, as well as other state and federal constitutional rights, by denying an application for an electronic sign. Developer Joel Douglas of Bellingham is the registered agent for the Harbor Lands Co. partnership.

Harbor Lands Co. filed a land use petition for review in Island County Superior Court this month, asking the judge to reverse the denial of the sign permit and award the company attorney’s fees.

According to the petition, the manager of the Coachman Inn submitted a sign permit application Aug. 11 for a large, free-standing electronic sign outside the motel. The sign would display time, temperature, messages about local events, promotions at the motel and an LCD display showing photos of the rooms and prices.

The city’s building official denied the application because some of the content of the sign’s messages were prohibited under the city’s municipal code.

The city’s sign ordinance states that electronic signs cannot “advertise a specific company or commodity,” though they can display such information as time, date, temperature or national market indices.

Harbor Lands appealed the denial to the city’s hearing examiner, but the examiner upheld the denial.

The petition states that the city’s denial “is an unlawful content-based government regulation which violates the petitioner’s rights to equal protection.”

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