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Sign language

Downtown Beaverton merchants seek expansion of city's sign ordinance

When Steve Smith was asked to remove an A-board sign from the sidewalk in front of his business in the Cady Building at Farmington Road and Watson Avenue, he took matters into his own hands.

'I pulled my car around to Watson and put the sign on my car,' confessed Smith, vice president of the Beaverton Downtown Association's organizing committee.

While the move was technically legal, the owner of A'kasha (The Fifth Element) jewelry store and school of jewelry arts admitted it wasn't the most practical solution.

'I'd just as soon see the (city) ordinance reflect what merchants want to do and are already doing,' he said.

Based on a forum held July 28 to discuss changes to the city sign ordinance, Smith and his fellow Old Town merchants are on track to make changes that could benefit their visibility and recognition to downtown drivers and pedestrians.

Working with city officials on the Community Vision project, the Beaverton Downtown Association's design committee identified city sign code revisions as a key priority to address this year.

Focusing on Old Town Beaverton as a pilot project, the committee seeks to:

  • Overturn the official prohibition of A-frame 'sandwich board' signs on sidewalks;

  • Expand the allowance for 'blade signs' that protrude from storefronts over sidewalks;

  • Establish a building standard at the time of initial land-use review to allow sign installation without separate land-use permits;

  • Create a standardized 'menu' for temporary signs such as A-frames and 'feather' signs that flop in the breeze.

    Stuart Strauss, chairman of the Beaverton Downtown Association's design committee, said the goals discussed at last week's meeting are designed to help merchants while maintaining the city's aesthetic and safety standards.

    'What we're trying to do is come up with new code language that will do two things: Allow a number of sign types, including A-frames, and also provide an incentive for business owners to use aesthetically pleasing signs rather than junk,' he said. 'By giving (merchants) a menu of pre-approved signs, it allows them to get a permit without going through a (separate) land-use review process.'

    Changing the guidelines for 'blade' signs is equally important, he notes. Only one sign is allowed per building, regardless of how many businesses may occupy the building.

    'We want to change it so it will be one sign per tenant,' he said. 'This is particularly critical in the Old Town area, where a lot of buildings are right on the property line. There's no room for a large sign that identifies all the tenants. And it's appropriate for other locations as well.'

    Holly Thompson, program manager for the city's Main Street economic revitalization program for historic districts, said the recent forum featured a productive discussion among merchants, citizens and city officials.

    'We didn't get any negative feedback' regarding proposed changes, she said. 'It was incredibly positive and supportive.'

    While there is momentum in favor of the changes, there are several steps that must be taken before the sign code is officially amended.

    Feedback from the recent meeting will go to the Community Development Department for consideration before moving to a joint work session between the Planning Commission and the City Council.

    Once the city attorney and planning staff review the proposed changes, the city would solicit public feedback through organizations such as the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce and neighborhood association committees. As required by law, the changes would then go through the comprehensive plan amendment process.

    'What's really exciting about this is the outreach the Downtown Association has done,' Thompson said. 'This is a grass-roots approach. It's not City Hall dictating the look' of signs.

    She praised the pro-active approach of the association that recently reformed after a long dormancy.

    'We've not had one for over 20 years,' she said.

    Smith, whose business occupies three addresses in the nearly 100-year-old Cady Building, said it's a challenge to attract customers' attention without detracting from a building's historic and architectural appeal.

    'We don't want to over sign, but we want some signs,' he said. 'This area is densely packed with businesses. In mine, you're not allowed to put anything else out there. It's hard to differentiate one building from the next.'