By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
You might have noticed fewer advertising A-frame signs on streetcorners in recent weeks.
For a while earlier this year, it seemed every intersection in West Seattle had a cluster on weekends – mostly advertising the bigger new apartment complexes around town, even a building in Columbia City, six miles away.
Then the city cracked down and issued warnings – with one local entrepreneur as a sort of bycatch.
John Bennett, owner of Luna Park Café, got a $500 citation for an A-frame sign his restaurant had long placed at Harbor/Avalon/Spokane (same location as the top photo), half a block from his café, meant to catch the attention of people coming off the bridge to head toward the West Seattle waterfront.
He’s fighting the citation and has an appeal hearing this week.
Bennett didn’t seek out attention for this challenge. We happened to notice the appeal hearing, originally scheduled for early May, while making a routine check of the city Hearing Examiner‘s website, an occasional source of stories. But he wasn’t hesitant to talk about it when we contacted him.
First, we should point out that the city says A-frame signs are only supposed to be allowed immediately adjacent to the business they promote. That’s what the citation, issued March 29th, noted. (Here’s the full sign code online.)
Bennett’s appeal, filed less than two weeks later, has just one sentence: “My sign has been there for 27 years.”
In a phone interview, he told us, “I understand what the city’s saying … (but) if you’re a small business, you should be able to have your signboards, within reason, in the same block.” A multimillion-dollar apartment development that’s nowhere nearby – whether in The Junction, a mile or so west, or that one in Columbia City – not so much. So that’s why the original warning didn’t make sense, he said. “(The developers) are putting up these A-boards and putting them all over the city … it got out of control and there were a dozen A-boards for every apartment building. So the city sent out [warning] notices … I just assumed they were talking about these apartment A-boards and didn’t do anything.”
Eventually, that resulted in the $500 citation – which he calls “ridiculous. Another way the city of Seattle is trying to discourage small business. Why do I feel like the city is my enemy? The city should be encouraging small business.” (Two weeks after Bennett’s $500 citation was issued, the mayor declared that “Small businesses are essential to the economy of our city,” while announcing an advisory committee about “commercial affordability.”)
The A-board rules aren’t the only thing he says are running contrary to that stated goal; he mentions the trials and tribulations of a tenant of his elsewhere in West Seattle who he says has been dealing with a variety of demands while trying to put in outdoor seating, while another arm of city government is trying to encourage converting parking spaces into “streateries.” “Does one hand know what the other hand is doing?”
In the case of sign enforcement, SDOT’s Angela Steel told us when we inquired, one hand is the city, the other is that of its citizens. A-frame signs, she said, are investigated “on a complaint basis … We want to be sure mobility is maintained on sidewalks, and (businesses) should be having their signs in front of the actual business.”
Citations, she said, are not issued at the start of the process – “we get a complaint, we investigate, we send a warning to the business, and after two warnings, we cite.”
How many citations? we asked. According to Steel, 185 warnings for A-frame signs were issued last year, with 23 citations resulting. As of late April, she said, the city had issued 47 warnings, and 9 citations.
One, to John Bennett’s Luna Park Café. The appeal hearing is scheduled for next Thursday (May 19th) at 1:30 pm at the Hearing Examiner’s chambers in the city Municipal Tower downtown.
Meantime, A-frames for apartments continue turning up away from their sites:
Those were in front of the 35th/Avalon 7-11 one day in early May.