Light up Oak Harbor

A wide-range of opinions surfaced from community and business people regarding Oak Harbor sign policy over the course of amending the city sign code.

Joel Douglas, owner of the Coachman Inn, hopes that some day the code will be expanded to include color electronic images, but if planning commissioner Keith Fakkema had his way, there’d be no commercial signs at all in Oak Harbor.

Much to the chagrin of a few sign-dissenters at Tuesday’s public hearing, Oak Harbor City Council unanimously OK’d an amendment to the municipal code that will allow local businesses to install electronic signs along Midway Boulevard and Highway 20.

Electronic signs are now allowed in commercial one, two, three, four and five zoned areas, as well as property zoned industrial, planned industrial park and planned business park.

Electronic signs are not allowed in the downtown, Pioneer Way central business, residential or residential office districts.

“What it allows is a different means to display a message,” said Steve Powers, development services director.

Prior to the amendment, the code barred electronic message signs in Oak Harbor, with the exception of “public facilities” zoned districts, which left word boards, vinyl banners and other signs with stationary messages as the primary option within city limits.

Oak Harbor High School District currently operates the only electronic sign within city limits, but in a month’s time, electronic message board signs could start popping up around town.

Randy Bradford, manager of the Coachman Inn, said the amendment is not a big enough change.

“I don’t know if we’ll get it until the code is further adapted,” he said of the inn’s decision to purchase a sign.

The Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce supports the change, but doesn’t expect to sport a sign anytime soon.

“The chamber has the desire to get a sign up first, but we’ll need to find grant money and fund raise,” said Executive Director Jill Johnson. “From a lifestyle standpoint, it’ll look a lot nicer. This way we can welcome home squadrons, congratulate schools and advertise for chamber events.”

Electronic message board signs aren’t cheap. Depending on size and style, they can range from $2,400 to $11,00 or more, according to Jeff Rossi of Island Signs, an Oak Harbor-based sign company.

Four local businesses have contacted Rossi for bids, he said.

“I’ve been talking with the mayor about this for months. All I wanted to do was take all those nasty looking boards out,” Rossi said of the signs currently in use around town.

But long-time Oak Harbor resident Fred Henninger felt the council’s decision to allow electronic message boards was in “poor taste.”

“It is trashy and it does not help the population of Oak Harbor,” he said. “This is, again, very poor planning,” referring to the area’s designation as a scenic byway.

In 2005 the Whidbey Island Scenic Isle Way Corridor Management Plan designated Highway 20 as a “scenic byway” and minimizes the amount of signs allowed along the roadway. The plan allows island communities to use their judgement for urban areas of Highway 20, such as Oak Harbor.

None of the amendment’s supporters attended the final public hearing.

Following the council’s approval of the change to the sign code ordinance, Councilman Danny Paggao called the amendment a “good compromise” between reader-board signs and video boards.

Councilwoman Beth Munns agreed.

“I really don’t like the reader boards with their ‘creative spelling,’” Munns said, summing up the council’s sentiment that the amendment may spur businesses to replace dilapidated read-board signs. “At least they’ll have all the letters all the time.”

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