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Businesses Adjust to Enhanced Enforcement of City Sign Code

The City of Redmond allows one portable sign per business in most commercial zones—a limitation some feel is overly strict.

Summer should be a great time for business at Julie Schuster's Redmond coffee shop.

Located right next to , the target customers for are park visitors looking for an extra boost of caffeine or healthy snack—and perhaps a fun treat for their four-legged friend.

But Schuster says her coffee shop, operated out of a she and her husband also own, has been struggling for several months. Part of the problem, she said, is a city sign code that allows her to put just one temporary sign out directing people to her shop, which is tucked away in a Southeast Redmond business park.

"I'm a small business trying to stay, (and) no one knows I'm here," Schuster said. "They're going to shut us down." 

Controversy over Redmond's sign code is nothing new. In 2004, Blazing Bagels owner Dennis Ballen won a lawsuit against the city that prompted officials to begin allowing businesses to display temporary signs.

But with recent direction from Redmond City Council for "enhanced enforcement" of the code, several businesses are once again concerned the rules do not leave enough flexibility for local stores.

Scott Manchester of Elite Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu said he is frustrated the code still allow real estate agents to display up to three temporary signs during open houses, while businesses are allowed just one sign. 

"It's far too rigorous and unfair for small businesses," he said. "I don’t like complex laws that give different rules to different people."

Deborah Farris, a code enforcement officer for the City of Redmond, said the city's current sign code is zone-based, meaning different restrictions are in place in different areas. In certain residential zones, more than one temporary sign is permitted, she said, but the rules are more strict in commercial zones because of safety concerns about the amount of visual distractions in those areas.

“Plus, we also try to keep it aesthetically pleasing,” she said.

Earlier this year, Farris said, the city tweaked its fine structure for sign code violations, increasing the civil penalty for second-time offenders from $100 per sign to $150 per sign. The first sign code warning carries no fee, but signs confiscated after the first warning cost $50 to retrieve, plus the civil penalty.

At the same time, Farris said code officers have been less lenient with warnings.

Despite additional enforcement, Farris said most business owners have been willing to comply. She said officials have confiscated signs from only four businesses so far this year, but have spent a significant amount of time talking to business owners and explaining the rules.

“It’s going great out there," Farris said. “They’ve been really really cooperative, and the city’s looking a lot better.”

Meanwhile, Schuster has started a petition asking the city to consider allowing businesses more than one sign. She said she's collected about 140 signatures from customers and fellow business owners.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect first name for the owner of Blazing Bagels. He is Dennis, not Douglas, Ballen.

Julie Schuster August 18, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Great story Caitlin! We appreciate your coverage! Julie
Julie Schuster August 18, 2012 at 08:47 PM
HELP support local businesses by "Liking" their FBook pages. This helps get their business out to your circle of friends - we can't survive with out you! For "Sharing" this post - I will give you and each of your friends that repost's this a punch card valued at 5 FREE $3 drinks at http://www.facebook.com/LuckyJacksLatte
Nancy Churchill August 19, 2012 at 03:13 AM
YES! The sign code is too strict regarding a-frame signs! I don't need a dancing bagel, but I do need more than one sign in order for people to notice my business. The city of Redmond is killing small business! I'm so happy you're advocating for change, Julie!
JD L June 08, 2013 at 01:27 PM
As an owner of a Redmond retail business for 14 years, I used portable signs. They were probably helpful. But when they became outlawed, I applauded the law. Why? Because I LIVE in Redmond too. Those signs are an eyesore and that's just the way it is. If your business is invisible because you chose to put it in a place that no one can see unless you use a portable sign, then maybe you should move your business. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.

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