Coupeville Town Planner Owen Dennison came up with an idea to use zoning to get around proposed sign code restrictions that some say may have detrimental effects on their small nonprofit organizations.
The current draft sign code, which the town has held more than a half dozen public meetings on, does not allow for A-frame signs and banners. Town staff said the decision was made because such signs are difficult to regulate because of the nature of their mobility.
A-frame signs and banners are generally light-weight, easy and inexpensive to make.
For some organizations, setting an A-frame sign out is a big way to advertise an event like the Methodist Church’s Strawberry Social and the library’s book sales.
Much of the public comment on the sign code has been about the code’s impact on “the little guys.”
But because of a 2015 Supreme Court decision, the code cannot regulate by speaker.
Not allowing A-frame signs or banners would pretty much destroy Whidbey Allied Artists, Carol Dawes told the council on Tuesday.
She said a majority of its members joined the organization because of its signage. The group, which holds regular sales at the Coupeville Recreation Hall, uses A-frame signs to draw in shoppers.
While the town can’t regulate by speaker, it can regulate by zoning, Dennison said. And he confirmed this with the town attorney.
Dennison presented an idea to rezone certain areas in town to Public/Quasi-Public zoning, which would include areas like parks, public open spaces like the Community Green, Town Hall, Island County buildings, the library, churches, schools, the hospital and the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
Within that zoning, the town could allow greater flexibility in the use of temporary signs, specifically A- frames and banners, without permits, Dennison said.
The Rec Hall doesn’t fit into the Public/Quasi-Public zone currently, but it can be re-zoned.
Dennison said the idea could have some unintended consequences the council may want to take into consideration such as creating resentment within the business community and for-profit corporations taking advantage of the intended use of those spaces.
There are also some things to consider such as restrictions on size and the number of signs allowed, but overall the idea was well-received.
“I think you’re brilliant,” said Councilwoman Pat Powell.
Council agreed and asked Dennison to turn his idea into a tangible document for council review at the next meeting.
Dennison’s idea was applauded by community members who’ve been following the town’s process as they work through the sign code.
“I’ve been interested in this process, not only as a particular business owner, but as someone who wants the best outcome for all people in our community,” said Sarah Richards, owner of Lavender Wind Farm. “I’ve been impressed by Owen Dennison, the mayor and the council’s willingness to take seriously the concerns that have been voiced in the various meetings.
“There are a few little details that still need to be worked out, but so far, the process towards building a fair and more easily understood sign code has been a good one. I like the idea of creating the Public/Quasi-Public zoning, which addresses signage needs to support the rich and varied life of the community.”
Coupeville Chamber Director Lynda Eccles agrees.
“I think the changes Owen has put forward and worked so hard on will resolve many issues that have arisen during this process,” she said. “I think he and the council did a great job of listening to community input and working hard to come to a compromise while staying within the guideline they have to adhere to.”