Sequim pole sign code irks business owner
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Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News
The sign on the corner pole advertises a business that no longer operates at 154 E. Washington St. in Sequim. But city codes won’t let Skunk Works Auto Detailing change it.

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– When Linda Chamness opened her Skunk Works Auto Detailing business in a new location at a former Texaco station at 154 E. Washington St., she hoped the vintage look would attract car owners looking to spruce up their rides.

Because of the city's codes concerning pole signs, however, she's getting more than she bargained for.

The landmark — which hearkens back to U.S. Highway 101 heritage, when Washington Street doubled as the highway — has a much higher profile than her previous spot at
503 S. Third St.

“It's got that old-time garage feel,” Chamness said. “It's just a perfect spot for what we do.”

But a pole sign advertising the station's last incarnation as an express lube and filter shop has brought many customers looking for services Chamness' detailing shop doesn't offer.

“I had a fellow drive up and ask if I could give him an oil change and check his spark plugs,” she said.

“I told him, 'Sir, I'd like to help you, but we're not a service station.'”

Chamness, who opened in the new location March 30, wanted to replace the old sign on the pole with one that advertises her business.

“This is visible going both ways. This is what gets noticed,” she said, pointing to the corner pole.

Under city codes regulating signage, however, she can't because it has been more than a year since the building was occupied.

The city cannot require that the pole come down. It also can't allow the sign to change, said Chris Hugo, director of the city's community development department.

Chamness, who already had new signs designed for the pole, critiqued the city's rules on how she can advertise her skunk-themed shop.

“The codes stink,” she said.

In the end, Chamness on Wednesday posted signs on the corner of her building.

The city awhile ago decided it wanted to get rid of the pole signs, Hugo said.

“We're trying to be helpful with this tenant and the owner, but the code says they can't use that pole.”

Mayor Ken Hays said downtown sign restrictions were instituted by several city councils dating back to the 1990s.

Those councils, he said, have worked to create zoning that opens up downtown for a more dense form of development.

“Our ultimate success in developing our city is having the downtown be a thriving downtown,” Hays said.

Hays praised city officials for presenting alternative solutions to Chamness.

“The city's working hard to make this work,” Hays said.

Plastic covers the sign that stands atop a pole at the old Gull station lot at the corner of Washington Street and Sequim Avenue.

The city currently is negotiating purchase of that lot, and Hugo said the pole likely will come down.

Bill Littlejohn owns the Texaco lot, along with the vacant lot next door.

He has future plans for a mixed-use retail and apartment building but said he is waiting to move forward with construction until the real estate market rebounds.

In the meantime, he thinks the city should give him and Chamness some leeway in using the corner pole sign.

“During this transition and in an economy like this, there needs to be some flexibility,” Littlejohn said. “Otherwise, you're limiting ways to fill storefronts downtown.”

However, he said he expected to take the sign down at some point.

“I do like that old building,” Hays said. “But I think that location has bigger things in store for it down the road.”

The city has come under fire from some in the business community because of its sign standards.

Hugo said the city cannot apply its rules situationally.

“The public expects their public employees to follow the law. That's what they pay us for,” Hugo said.

Even the vintage Texaco star on the fašade of the building, which the new owner wants to leave in place, could be eyed as a violation of the code.

“There's no Texaco there, is there?” Hugo asked.

A loose interpretation of the code allows Hugo to leave the Texaco star as a nostalgic piece of art.

“I have no authority in the code to call that Texaco sign a piece of art,” he said.

“But I do think that's at least a defensible position.”



Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 11. 2013 6:13PM
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