The topic of commercial signage has been getting its share of publicity in Liberty Lake over the past year.
Earlier this month, the issue finally found some direction – though not in the form of a wayfinding sign program that appeared as a $100,000 line item in the city’s 2010 general budget.
Council Member Josh Beckett, voted onto Liberty Lake’s governing board last November, emerged this summer with an idea for the city to sponsor a footboard sign program – the approach would serve as a compromise for local businesses disgruntled with the municipal sign code while saving the city a considerable expense through a scaled-down version of the wayfinding proposal.
The approach, launched July 11, involves local merchants filling out an application at City Hall to display footboard – or “sandwich board” signs – in front of their respective businesses. The city will monitor the program over the next year, reviewing feedback from retailers regarding the impact on everything from overall revenue to foot traffic.
“We see this as a way to have better dialogue with businesses in Liberty Lake,” Beckett said.
The wayfinding program, which earned funding support from the council last December, was to include store locators, entrance signs and business district monuments – all low to the ground in subtle designs of stone or brick. The arrangement, which would have charged businesses an annual fee of around $400, was seen as a way to mitigate concern from retailers over signage limitations while preserving an aesthetic standard in Liberty Lake, a goal outlined by municipal leaders when the original sign code was passed in February 2002, less than a year after the area became Spokane County’s newest incorporated city.
“One of the original considerations of incorporation was how to deal with the threat of billboards and other signs,” said Doug Smith, Liberty Lake community development director. “It impacts the community as a whole. When you have signs and banners all over the place, it runs counter to the goals we’re trying to achieve.”
The city hosted two meetings earlier this year to discuss a signage compromise with business leaders. The first gathering was attended by a local cycle shop and representatives from two of Liberty Lake’s most recognized companies, Greenstone Homes and Huntwood, a cabinet manufacturer. The numbers were less encouraging at the second meeting – not one person showed up to sign the guest list.
Still, council members like Ryan Romney say citywide sign standards remain a topic of conversation for many business owners.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about people being frustrated with this,” said Romney at the July 6 City Council meeting where the footboard sign plan was unanimously approved. “This is really good idea brought forward by Council Member Beckett. We’ll see how it impact the community.”
Romney was one of several council members to reference the discordant presentation of signs to the west, saying “we don’t want to develop into a Sprague-type Valley.” The city of Spokane Valley is currently in the process of re-examining its much maligned sign code.
Earlier this year, Council Member Judi Owens described how obtrusive signs can interfere with the composition of a city, blotting out the view of trees and mountains. A drastic change to the sign code, Owens said, would likely raise concern among residents.
“If we changed it and people started seeing 150-foot signs, I’m sure they would say something,” Owens said.
Bernadette Oaks has owned San Francisco Sourdough in Liberty Lake for nearly 10 years and was one of the first retailers in town to put up the footboard signs. She applauded the city for “working to help small businesses” and said the smaller, low-cost signs represent a happy medium in a tough economy.
“I’m not sure if they’ve brought in any people yet – it’s hard to say,” Oaks said. “The signs are good, not tacky like a banner floating in the wind and they don’t block the sidewalk.”