Opinion

Viewpoint

"New sign ordinance helps protect islandI am writing in response to Mr. Don Pinter's letter printed in the March 11 issue of The Record. While I recognize that his letter may have been written prematurely, the fact is that it misstates and misinterprets nearly every feature of the Signs and Lighting ordinance finally adopted by the Board of Commissioners on March 6. I urge all interested readers to get a copy of this ordinance, C-124-99, so they can see for themselves.The signage part of the new ordinance requires that:1. Signs attached to buildings may not protrude more than four feet above the building (Mr. Pinter's statement was that such signs might be no more than four feet high).2. Freestanding signs may be no more than 18 feet in height.3. Box signs (i.e. backlit signs that are illuminated from within by fluorescent lights) must have plastic faces with dark backgrounds and light lettering.4. Externally illuminated signs must be lighted from above (so that reflected light is directed downward). These last two provisions are intended to protect the night sky (not the night air as Mr. Pinter stated) from light pollution, an increasing problem in rural areas such as ours.5. For rural areas, lit signs must be extinguished by 11 p.m. or at closing time, whichever is later, and internally illuminated signs are prohibited. This provision does not apply to commercial areas. (Mr. Pinter's letter wrongly stated that all lights anywhere had to be out by 11 p.m., etc.).These regulations apply only to NEW lights. Mr. Pinter states that the ordinance would ... pretty much eliminate most signs currently located throughout the county. In fact, ALL EXISTING signs of whatever size, lit and unlit, are grandfathered in. Existing signs need to be brought into compliance only if the nature of the business (and, therefore, the content of the sign) changes or if more than 60 percent of the entire sign is replaced or repaired.In general, Mr. Pinter confuses the regulations for commercial areas, including small places like Greenbank, with the rural areas, the 80 percent of the county that's farms, forests, or primarily residential. The rules for signs in rural areas are indeed tougher. The commissioners decided, rightly, that large, bright signs, say for B&Bs or artisan shops in the rural areas, are neither necessary no appropriate.The lighting part of the new ordinance requires that lighting fixtures be shielded so that light is directed downward and the light bulb itself cannot be seen from off the property. The ordinance does not forbid, as Mr. Pinter states, any light from escaping. This is a sensible approach to the problems of light pollution, the safety of motorists who might be distracted or blinded by bright lights, and the concerns of home owners whose enjoyment of their property is impaired by unshielded mercury vapor lamps in their neighbor's yard. Business and homeowners have three years to comply with this ordinance. Light fixtures attached to homes and all fixtures less than 60 watts are exempt.As a member of the Freeland Subarea Planning Committee and its Freeland Central Business District Subcommittee for the last 15 months, I have had occasion to discuss the considerable impacts of signs and lighting with residents and business owners. As a business owner myself, I know that signs are an important means of identifying my location and encourage patronage. I see nothing in the adopted ordinance that interferes with either of these functions. For Island County, bigger and brighter is not better.I have been a business owner and resident of South Whidbey since 1976. Like most of you, I feel that one of our most important assets is the rural character of Island County, which makes it an attractive place to live and visit. I do agree with Mr. Pinter on one point: None of us wants a Highway 99 through our county. That's precisely why this new ordinance has been adopted.On behalf of my neighbors, I'd like to say to Commissioners Shelton, Thorn and McDowell, Thanks for protecting this place we love.Steve Shapiro is owner of Island Athletic Club in Freeland."

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