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City wants county help on `visual clutter'

The Hood River City Council wants to eliminate "visual clutter" within the Urban Growth Area (UGA) by having the county adopt new commercial sign standards.

On April 5, City Planning Director Cindy Walbridge hand-delivered an official letter to Mike Benedict, county planning director, asking that immediate action be taken.

"The council feels we're at a point when the look of the city is pretty uniform and now we'd like to have all commercial development within the UGA conform to the same sign code," said Walbridge.

Under a formal agreement enacted between the city and county in 1997, the clock is now ticking on the 90-day time period for the county to consider adopting the same commercial ordinance that was passed by the city in 1992. Benedict said at the current time the county does not have strict criteria for the allowable height, width and number of signs within the border zone that could one day be annexed.

To meet Measure 56 requirements, Benedict said his office will notify all landowners within the UGA from 20-40 days prior to the first hearing. He said by state guidelines, he must also notify the Department of Land Conservation and Development of the pending legislative action 45 days prior to the initial hearing. Public comment will be taken when the issue is addressed by the county planning commission and then again when it is reviewed by the board of commissioners.

In 2000, city attorney Alexandra Sosknowski recommended that the city begin enforcing its code since businesses within the city limits had been given eight years to change their signs. She said that delaying enforcement further could create problems for a future governing body since a record of non-action could be construed as a repeal of the regulations.

At that time 23 commercial establishments had signs which violated the new code. However, Walbridge said no penalties were imposed since the owners of these businesses immediately made whatever changes were necessary. She said currently the downtown Exxon gasoline station has the sole nonconforming sign and the owner is working with officials to remedy the situation.

Walbridge said at the time the sign code was passed, there were more than 100 businesses violating its standards.

Under the city code, the fine for noncompliance of the commercial sign code is $250 per violation plus $2.50 per day until the sign is changed. If that fees does not serve to correct the problem, city officials will then boost the penalty each year, up to a maximum fine of $1,000 per violation plus $10 per day.

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