LACEY - The days of seeing pole signs and billboards in Lacey were supposed to be numbered. Now it looks as though those signs will get a reprieve.
Nearly 100 signs across the city don’t conform to standards adopted to de-clutter corridors, but owners won’t have to change over to less obtrusive signs by a specific date, said Rick Walk, community development director.
The most recent compliance deadline came and went Dec. 31, but the City Council decided to buck a planning commission proposal that would have extended the deadline for five years. Instead, the council directed the city staff to move forward with a draft that would leave out deadlines and require sign owners to put in monument or wall signs only if applying for a sign permit or when the business changed or expanded. A monument sign is a freestanding sign near ground level rather than on a taller pole.
Other commission recommendations, such as financial grants and the creation of a committee to help business owners design signs, also were rejected.
Council member Andy Ryder said taking down old signs for the sake of conformity would not only hurt small-business owners but also detract from Lacey’s history.
“My argument was that these signs are historical and help make Lacey what it is today,” he said.
The council will discuss, and could adopt, the updated ordinance during its March 24 meeting.
The proposed triggers, which effectively grandfather the nonconforming signs, are being applauded by local commerce leaders and some sign owners.
“Let the natural process of aging and turnover of business be the trigger,” said Mike Beehler, executive director of the Lacey Chamber of Commerce. Beehler added that many businesses are “mom and pop” shops that may have inherited signs that once conformed.
The move to take down non-conforming signs began in 1997, when the city created a uniform sign standard, preferring monument and flush-mounted wall signs.
Many business owners spoke out against regulation and conformance deadlines during a planning commission public hearing this year, saying the new regulations would hurt the visibility and pocketbooks of businesses.
Kyung Yun, owner of a Vietnamese restaurant at the former Lucky’s Tavern property off Pacific Avenue, told the commission her business has been struggling and that a monument sign would not provide the same visibility the current pole sign does, according to meeting minutes. She also spoke out against a deadline for compliance.
During the meeting, some business and property owners said reader boards provide vital space for sale information. Others said that there just isn’t space for new signage on their property.
However, not all Lacey business owners are worried about changing their signs, including one man who said he might have waited if he had known the deadline would be extended or dumped.
Dave Mattern Sr., owner of the Midas Muffler Shop off Pacific Avenue, had his pole sign removed in 1999 and replaced with a monument sign several years before the original 2003 deadline.
He said the cost of the new sign was about $1,200, with the city kicking in about $500. Until 2007, the city had a financial incentive grant program that provided $10,000 to local businesses to help offset the cost of compliance, Walk said.
“I just decided to go ahead and do it, took advantage of the cash incentive figuring I was going to have to do it anyways,” Mattern said.
Mattern, who has owned the store for about 27 years, said the lower sign is more visible than the higher sign that sat near the tree canopy, but admits he is irritated that others are being given more time.
“Well, I could have saved a lot of money by waiting,” he said.
Grace Kendall, owner of the Fastsigns store in Lacey, said the financial burden of removing and replacing a sign could escalate to tens of thousands of dollars. She’s in favor of a grandfather clause.
She said taking out a nonconforming sign and installing a new sign could cost at the low-end about $7,000. According to a city staff report, costs could range between $5,000 and $15,000.
However, the city says many nonconforming signs could be brought into conformance for far less. A solid base, such as installing masonry blocks at the base, costs about $500, according to the city.
Official communication between the city and sign owners has also been sparse. Besides the notice of public hearing sent out late last year, the city last notified businesses about conformance issues in 2003, Walk said.