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Ferndale businesses get caught up on sign code confusion

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FERNDALE, Wash. — Some Ferndale businesses have reported having to move their sidwalk signs and having signs confiscated by the City of Ferndale Code Enforcement staff as a result of what both businesses and city staff refer to as the “confusing” state of the Ferndale Municipal Code regarding business signs on sidewalks.

Eagle’s Roost Restaurant Owner Matt Trott told My Ferndale News he had been contacted by City of Ferndale Code Enforcement Officer Mike Catrain about his sandwich board sign. Trott said he was told he could only place the sign on the sidewalk in front of his business and not where he had been, at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Main Street, more than 50-feet from his business located at 2054 Main Street. Trott said Catrain cited the Ferndale Municipal Code (MFC) but Trott said he found nothing in the section cited that limited placement of sign to only in front of the business so he continued to place his sign at the corner until one day he noticed it was missing.

Trott called the Ferndale Police to report the missing sign as stolen. They said it was not stolen and they had been advised by Catrain to refer him to City Hall since the sign had been confiscated and was there pending payment of a $25 fine.

Lenny’s Bike Shop Owner Loren McWilliams reported he had also been contacted by Catrain regarding a sign he had been placing on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Main Street for several years. He was told that it had to be in front of his business, located at 5676 2nd Avenue, or it could be confiscated. McWilliams said he was quick to comply but was not happy about the expected impact it would have on his business. “I’ve had many customers tell me it was only after seeing that sign that they even knew we were here,” McWilliams told My Ferndale News.

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These encounters between the businesses and the city were brought to the attention of Ferndale City Council members Ali Hawkinson and Ryan O’Larey who talked with the businesses and then called for a discussion of the FMC at the Planning and Land Use Committee meeting last Wednesday, February 12th.

Audio of the February 12, 2020 Planning and Land Use Committee meeting.
Discussion regarding signs begins at about the 38.5-minute mark in the audio recording.

It was agreed by all in attendance that the code was difficult to understand and to refer the current Zoning | Sign Requirements section of the FMC to the Planning Committee to be reviewed and fine-tuned.

Mayor Greg Hansen said during the committee meeting how he recalled a former city administrator saying, “If your business relies on a sandwich board down the street, then your business has bigger problems.” Hansen went on to say, “Our job is to maintain safe pedestrian access to the public right of way and so we have to have common sense restrictions toward that as well.”

A discussion between city staff and My Ferndale News later for the purpose of writing this story revealed that while there is a rule in the Ferndale Municipal Code that requires commercial signs only be placed in front of the business, it is not located in the Zoning | Sign Requirements section where most had been looking. It is instead in the Streets, Sidewalks & Public Places | Encroachment and Sidewalk Dining Permits section. Under Exemptions is a rule allowing for commercial sidewalk signs that reads as follows:

A.    Temporary signs pursuant to Chapter 18.80 FMC, including sandwich board signs directly in front of a business that are removed after business hours each day.

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Catrain said that since the committee meeting he had confiscated a Leader Block Wine Co. & Eatery sidewalk sign after he had given warnings about it encroaching onto the sidewalk further than allowed.

Lenny’s Bike Shop has since relocated their sign in front of their business, careful, according to McWilliams, to position it between parallel parking spaces so not to interfere with people getting in and out of their vehicles. He is not happy with the additional constraint on his business but does not see any choice.

The Eagle’s Roost sign remains at City Hall. Trott said he does not expect to pay the fine and retrieve it since, as he put it, “If the sign can only be seen by people already in front of my business, what good does it do me?”

Community Development Director Haylie Miller and City Administrator Jori Burnett have both mentioned during past and current discussions regarding signage in public right of ways that, if a working solution cannot be had, it might be best for everyone to not allow any signs at all.


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19 COMMENTS

  1. Ferndale down town side walks do not have enough foot traffic to warrant the crack down on the signs. But it looks like Ferndale voters have put a control freak in charge.

  2. Yes, the Mayor’s comment displays a callous disregard for small business owners; weird attitude. By the way, this kind of “code enforcement” is what we get when an ex-cop is given the job. Yet another “sign” that Ferndale has lost its way…

  3. This is not a big city with lots of pedestrian traffic. We are a small town and I would hope that we would be friendly and accommodating to anyone who has a business downtown. That was a terrible statement that said if you have to depend on a sandwich board for business then you have bigger problems. What type of person denigrates the business people in our town like that? The bike shop had its sign on Main St for years with no problem and people actually said they found out about the shop because of the sign. I understand that was said by a former city administrator but I certainly hope the current administration would never be so rude and judgemental of hard working business people in Ferndale.

    Business people keep downtown Ferndale going. Empty buildings do nothing for the town. We need to encourage businesses to thrive here, not create obstacles in the way of their success.

  4. Ahahha I’m on the fence but not really for the irony again. The city administrator was promoting on the bridge to get more business here yet now ordering good staff to take that away to take the blame. Catrain is a good person, was a really good cop and he’s just doing his job. Also, the Mayor should have responded better. Not looking good. Don’t promote yet take that away. Also, not surprised by the city administrator threatening once again to take away rights to publicly state our concerns.

    “Community Development Director Haylie Miller and City Administrator Jori Burnett have both mentioned during past and current discussions regarding signage in public right of ways that, if a working solution cannot be had, it might be best for everyone to not allow any signs at all.”

    Within the past has also put out there we’re not allowed to say anything and they know who we are! What kind of government threatens people’s concerns rather than actually listening and making it better? Hopefully, the Mayor starts weeding out head departments making very poor decisions and violations of RCW Codes soon.

  5. I have to agree with the comments I’m reading. Give the small business folks a BREAK! Too much Big Brother.

  6. I do have an idea that I have seen many small tourist towns use.
    Why not allow the businesses to each have a 6×18 in sign placed at the key intersections of Main Street on a signal pole or light standard with a directional arrow
    Key to tourism and encouraging downtown focus.

  7. “Mayor Greg Hansen said during the committee meeting how he recalled a former city administrator saying, “If your business relies on a sandwich board down the street, then your business has bigger problems.”” Callous and ignorant remark – then and now.

  8. Is this a real problem? Has anyone been injured or inconvenienced by the offending signs? I never have been, have never heard a word of complaint. The signs on the corners are colorful and bring a little life to the street. I smile at the arts commission solar birds on Washington and Vista. And I like the signs on the corners for the same reason: they both hint that something is happening in this little city.

  9. I grew up in Ferndale and I could tell the mayor a few words on this besides it you want to get this picky I sure we help you our next election. Main Street stores no really need a sign but the stores on the side street rely on the sign to help customers find the hole in wall stores like Lenny Bike shop. A shop that not only sells and repairs bike but also support the community. Get a grip your not seattle and foot traffic very limited in Ferndale.

  10. There is limited street-side parking downtown and plenty of sidewalk space. So long as the signs are not blocking large sections of the sidewalk, and are removed at the end of each business day, they should be fine. When we have so much foot traffic that these signs impede pedestrians on the side-walks, that will be a good problem to have.

  11. Doesnt matter whether you have a neon sign above your building or a sandwich board down the street, Ferndale residents dont support downtown businesses and neither does the city.

    • It’s a real shame. There are very good restaurants and shops here, so it’s sad they have to miss out on business because of poor infrastructure and management. The New Mexico Tamale company was named one of the top 100 restaurants in the US, but it’s hard to imagine that giving them much benefit given that any tourists wanting to visit will have trouble navigating the roads or finding a place to park.

  12. Ferndale is lucky to have any small businesses. Having a Bicycle shop & a great restaurant is a huge plus for all residents. Why the anti Busines attitude? What’s next for the sign police? Going after open house signs?
    Ferndale wants to attract more business, why? Who would want to come here & deal with petty people enforcing ambiguous laws.

  13. If the concern is over pedestrian safety, I think there are better things to be addressed.

    1. Intersections in Downtown Ferndale need help. It is difficult and frightening to cross them as a pedestrian, because people often continue driving when the lights have changed. And since there is no other crosswalk between the Haggen’s lot and the shopping area with the Grocery Outlet, people needing to go multiple places have to use these crosswalks way more than necessary.

    2.Ferndale needs new sidewalks in a lot of places. When there are large events downtown, it is easy to see that the current sidewalks are inadequate.

    3. Snow piles up high on the side walks and makes walking through the city a nightmare. Pedestrians also have to get to stores and to bus stops, would be nice if the city at least cleared out the downtown sidewalks like they do with the roads.

    4. The flags that get put up a few times a year seriously impede attempts to walk down the sidewalk. It’s no fun getting attacked by a display of patriotism when the wind blows a series of heavy flags so they get in your face and wrap around you – and I don’t see how people with wheelchairs can easily manage. I like the display, I just hate how it’s implemented.

    5. And while we’re at it, Ferndale needs more parking. More people are moving in or traveling through. If Ferndale does indeed want more businesses to move in and existing ones to thrive, we need parking to handle the growing crowds.

    • Also, as a pedestrian, I am bothered much more by trash/recycling bins left scattered on the sidewalks. I would love to see some enforcement of that, because they get left for days (sometimes an entire week), and this sometimes requires walking in the road to get around. I have never noticed a sandwich board downtown impeding my progress, but I definitely notice the bins all the time.

  14. Sean Freel.. Yet another incident of useless law-enforcement that hurts the people that pay their salary…

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