City Hall

Sign Fight Goes to Council

By Erica C. Barnett December 7, 2010

The city council's regional development and sustainability committee will consider legislation this afternoon that would allow as large downtown businesses to put lighted signs on their buildings.

Although opponents of the legislation have asserted that it will allow companies to "deface" Seattle's skyline (in a letter to the council, more than 25 local architects urged the city not to "allow [the downtown skyline] to become a billboard for privileged corporations), the legislation includes restrictions that would limit it to just six or seven companies. And in practice, the legislation would only affect one business, Russell Investments, which is the only company of that handful whose logo is white (one of the restrictions in the legislation).

Among other restrictions, the legislation would apply only to companies that lease more than 200,000 square feet in a single downtown building; would only allow one sign per building; would restrict the size of signs; and would not allow signs that blink or rotate. (Russell is seeking an amendment that would allow larger signs---up to 1,080 square feet, rather than the four 324-foot signs (on buildings shorter than 500 feet) or two 628-foot signs (on buildings taller than 500 feet) that would be allowed under the current legislation.) The sign Russell is proposing, pictured above, would be about 1,000 square feet.

Nonetheless, committee members and bill proponents expect a large turnout from opponents at the hearing this afternoon. And city council member Nick Licata plans to introduce a resolution (nonbinding, unlike an ordinance) that "requests that the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) submit legislation ... to establish a comprehensive set of regulations to ensure that the sign regulations achieve their intent of curbing the proliferation of signage, that all types of signage and technologies are addressed, and that signage undergo design review and regular inspection to ensure compliance."

In a letter to his fellow council members, Licata expressed concerns about the current "abundance of off-premise and on-premise signs" that violate the sign code today. "Given our budget trimming exercise, [the Department of Planning and Development, which enforces the code] is now more than ever challenged in staffing sufficiently to enforce compliance." As we reported earlier this year, DPD has slashed its staff by a third, to about 300 from a high of 450.

One curious side note to the sign debate is that the discussion is taking place in Richard Conlin's regional planning and sustainability committee, rather than Sally Clark's Committee on the Built Environment, which oversees DPD. Conlin says he took the legislation because Clark was "tied up with SoDo legislation and the multifamily code, so we just decided to take it in my committee."

Watch the committee hearing starting around 2:30 here.

Although Russell's lobbyist, former deputy mayor Tim Ceis, did visit Clark and Conlin sequentially on the same day in October, Conlin says he doesn't remember being asked to take it up in his committee to expedite its approval.
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