"Time to look back, recall intent of code"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:51 PM
"Your sign may or may not be illegal. You may or may not hear about it from the city. The sign code itself may or may not come up for discussion and amendment before the planning commission or the city council.No one seems ready to make the first move, as city officials look to bring rogue signs into compliance around town, particularly on Winslow Way. Not that such signage is thought to be, in most instances, particularly egregious - no flashing neon or backlit displays designed to hook the unwary eye - with violations said to be picayune, some measured in mere inches above sidewalk grade.A week or so ago, several members of the planning department were gracious enough to tour downtown with us, pointing out what they believe to be out-of-compliance signage. Then followed a period of backpedaling; now we are told that the code itself may be changed to accommodate violators.Change the code? Let's tread lightly here. We may not have known what we wanted downtown to look like when the council adopted sign standards in 1993, but we certainly knew what we didn't like - Bremerton's Wheaton Way, Highway 305 through Poulsbo...any commercial strip where the architecture or the pedestrians themselves are visually drowned out by billboards trying to out-obtrude each other.We still think it's a generally sound code - anything that keeps giant neon displays and trailer-mounted signs off the landscape is fine by us - and it certainly got fair consideration by the city and local business interests when it was adopted. The problem is, as a community we've forgotten what it said and why it made sense at the time.We suggest the first move should be to sit down with those who drafted the code and go over its intent. Then enforcement needs to follow common sense. Any code that is grounded in aesthetics has a tenuous existence - what a past council found visually offensive and prohibited, the current group may applaud and allow. So don't make the standards the enemy - renew public understanding of why they should be applied.One more thought: If you've forgotten the provisions of the city sign code, or never knew them in the first place, take heart. You're certainly not alone.On that foot-tour of downtown with local officials, we stumbled across - could have stumbled over, actually - a city sandwich board sign in the sidewalk next to city hall's lower parking area. That would seem to be a flagrant violation of the code, which by our reading prohibits the placement of signs, either permanent or temporary, in public rights of way.The sign was sitting about five feet from a senior planning official's car. So you never know what's going to be overlooked. "