City Council will consider revising sign code as it relates to sidewalk advertisements

It took a couple hours and a bit of screaming, but Forest Grove officials signaled a willingness to loosen regulations of temporary A-frame business signs.

In a 4-3 vote Monday, councilors agreed to consider amending a city ordinance to allow businesses to set up temporary signs off-premises, as long as they have permission of the property owners where the signs appear.

As usual, much of the attention focused on one business, 22nd Street Station. For many years the family-owned café had an illegal A-frame sign on the public sidewalk at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Douglas Street. Soon, other A-frame signs began popping up all over town.

City laws didn't allow such signs anywhere on the public right-of-way, so councilors crafted an ordinance which restricted A-frames to one per property and required that they meet certain size specifications.

City officials began enforcing the new rules last fall, which led to an outcry by supporters of café owner Cindy Smith. They noted that because her business is located two blocks north of Pacific Avenue, Smith's sign wasn't visible to most motorists.

'You people have put me through hell since September,' Smith told councilors Monday evening, her voice rising with anger. 'I'm tired of it. My customers are tired of it. You should be ashamed.'

Smith's outburst didn't sit well with councilor Tom Johnston, a long-time café patron who told Smith that city officials had taken her complaints seriously and were working to address them.

City puts up signs

Indeed, the city recently put up a narrow blue sign posted atop a metal pole at the corner of Pacific and Douglas to direct drivers to Smith's café. The idea was that such signs could be used to promote tourist-oriented businesses located off the city's main roads.

'The tourist sign is a solution for business that had been left out in the cold,' said councilor Victoria Lowe. She, along with councilors Elena Uhing and Ron Thompson, liked the uniformity of the 'blade' signs and the fact that the city would decide where they go and which businesses were appropriate for their use.

But other councilors worried that busy corners, such as Pacific Avenue and Main Street, would be cluttered with multiple signs and the city would have to determine which businesses were 'tourist-related.'

Councilor Tom BeLusko championed an idea suggested by Ron Bednar, owner of the Pizza Schmizza on Main Street. Last month Bednar caused a minor flap when he parked his delivery bike, decked out with a small A-frame sign, across the street, in the right of way in front of the United Church of Christ.

Bednar argued that he should be able to park his bike there with the permission of the church, but the city rules didn't allow it.

Smith ran into the same problem when she tried to place her café sign in front of the Chevron station on Douglas Street.

BeLusko argued that since property owners are allowed one sign, they should be able to put one up, even if it isn't for their own business.

'If Chevron wants to put out a sign for Cindy, they can,' he said. 'If they want to put out their own sign, they can.'

In the end, his argument won the day, as the council voted 4-3 to direct city staff members to revise the ordinance to reflect that change, allowing businesses to place a second A-frame sign in a right-of-way off their premises, as long as they had permission from the property owner. Joining him on the vote were Mayor Pete Truax and Councilors Johnston and Camille Miller.

Belusko's motion also removes the city-directed 'blade' signs.

Garage sale and open house signs up in the air

Not all the questions, however, have been resolved. City staff members are still looking at tweaking the law to give real estate agents more flexibility in promoting open houses. And Forest Grove resident Roberta Nickels asked councilors to take another look at how enforcement of the new regulations is affecting residents' ability to promote garage sales.

Nickels said she supports the city's efforts to ban signs from telephone poles and avoid signs staying in the right-of-way for weeks after a sale is over. However, she says signs placed along busy streets are an important method of bringing in bargain-hunters and she would like to see them allowed during the day of the sale.

'These sales are important to people,' she said. 'It's a low-cost, social activity. Please go back to the drawing board on this.'

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