Wednesday, August 7, 2002/lk
The Hood River County Commission has set the date for introduction of its new commercial sign code for the Urban Growth Area.
Since the “urban fringe” is intended to eventually become annexed into the city, the municipality has asked the county to comply with its planning requests in those zones.
The public will have the opportunity to comment on the county’s version of the sign code on Aug. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the second floor conference room at the county courthouse.
Mike Benedict, county planning director, is recommending that existing signs be “grandfathered” so that business owners are not forced to pay expensive replacement costs. However, once these properties are incorporated into the city limits, sign owners would be granted a grace period of seven years to meet the new standards.
A debate is expected at the county hearing over the pros and cons of establishing a “freeway zone” along Country Club Road and West Cascade Avenue near the Interstate 84 interchange. The County Planning Commission failed to reach a consensus about that issue at its July 10 hearing so it will be addressed by the elected body.
Benedict said the key reason for setting up a freeway zone was “fairness.” For example, he said the Texaco gasoline station near Exit 62 derives the majority of its customer base from freeway traffic but is “virtually invisible” from the freeway while competing service stations at exits 63 and 64 have been allowed higher and larger signage.
During technical studies in 2000, the city decided that allowing larger signage between exits 63 and 64 was fair because the distance between the exits was too short for fuel/food/lodging signs and these businesses were screened by vegetation and low terrain.
Benedict said the strongest opposing argument is that allowing larger freeway signs could bring the “visual clutter” that the city had hoped to avoid by adoption of its sign code in 1992. He said the city considers the potential zone as a “gateway’ to Hood River and wants to discourage a “strip development look”.
Benedict is asking that his staff be given flexibility and discretionary authority to approve signs in any location when the regulations would have detrimental effect on a business.
He has also recommended that, unlike the city, the county not set a fee for new sign permits because these are currently considered part of a structure in the building code.