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.
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.
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.
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.