City asking for removal of outdated signs

Property owners in downtown Aberdeen are being asked to remove “old dilapidated signs advertising businesses that are no longer operating” within 30 days or face action by city officials. The request comes in a letter from Mayor Bill Simpson and is due to be mailed today.

The letter goes to 77 property owners. In May the owners were invited to a “workshop” on “minimum maintenance standards for vacant and dilapidated structures downtown.” The letter thanks those who attended or commented and says Simpson is following up on “the many comments we have received about the (aesthetic) appeal of all the buildings, sidewalks, and empty lots in our downtown.”

The appearance of the downtown corridor has been a hot topic in recent meetings held by City Council, Planning Commission, and the Historic Preservation Commission. The may has also appointed a task force to address downtown appearance and it is “invested in turning our downtown back into an inviting destination,” and “share(s) my commitment to identifying and taking actions that will result in visible improvements to our community,” the letter says.

Noting the task force gathered more than 30 volunteers to clean sidewalks and alleys the evening of June 13, the mayor’s letter says “(y)ou or one of y our tenants may have directly benefited from our work. I hope that you have — and that you will be encouraged to continue what the task force started. Grab a broom and take five minutes to make sure the fronts of your buildings and businesses look inviting. Pull the errant weeds and pick up any trash that may have accumulated in front of your space on the sidewalks. … Share this letter, and its offer, with your tenants. If we all just take a few extra minutes to keep up our property looking friendly and inviting others will notice too.”

Community Development Director Lisa Scott requested a sign inventory be taken by the task force.

A letter was then drafted and circulated among city officials.

An sign inventory was also taken by Aberdeen Police Officer Darren King, who attends task force meetings. His list also encompassed signage outside the downtown corridor. These businesses will likely be sent letters later after the city sees how compliance with the request goes, Scott said. Some of the owners are on both lists.

Among the signs targeted for removal, according to city spreadsheets, are: the Rocky’s Pizza and H & R Block sign on a building owned by “Morck Blocks Properties LLC” at 209 W. Wishkah; the neon Popcorn Factory sign, Garrett’s Camera and an outdated banner for an auction, all on the Elks Building on East Wishkah, owned by Martin Hubbard; Pioneer Paper owned by Heron Suites LLC at 419 East Heron; and SBAT Leather on 215 West Wishkah, owned by Wiitamaki’s.

Scott cited The Washington Store sign on a building owned by Larry Goldberg as an example of compliance by an owner.

A three-step approach is being considered, Scott said Wednesday. It could be described as carrot, carrot, stick. What kind of stick remains in question.

In an earlier email, Scott noted that the plan is to “use a friendly approach to gain compliance” under the code regarding signs, or as City Attorney Eric Nelson put it: “We will blithely assume a posture of good will towards all and anticipate voluntary compliance.”

The code section that pertains to signs reads:

“If a sign advertises a business, service, commodity, accommodation, attraction or other enterprise or activity that is no longer operating or being offered or conducted, that sign shall be considered abandoned and shall, within thirty (30) days after such abandonment, be removed by the sign owner, owner of the property where the sign is located, or other party having control over such sign.”

The goal is to remove the signs, and to avoid fining property owners, Scott said. So, first, the letter from the mayor will be sent. Then a stronger request for action with 30 days will likely be sent close to the beginning of August, she said.

When asked what remedy is available to the city for those who do not remove the signs, city attorney Eric Nelson said the city has “not elected a remedy at this point.” Nelson added in an email:

“After that, AMC 17.96.090 (below, A-C) speaks for itself:

“A. The city of Aberdeen, through its authorized agents, may initiate injunction, abatement proceedings or any other appropriate action in the courts against any person who violates or fails to comply with any provision of this title.

“B. Any person who violates or fails to comply with any provision of this title, or the owner of property upon which a violation of this title is located, shall be subject to a maximum penalty of five hundred dollars ($500.00) for each day or portion of a day that the violation continues; provided, however, that an owner of property who has not perpetrated the violation shall be subject to penalty only if demand for abatement or alteration of the violation has been mailed to said owner at his/her last known address by registered mail, return receipt requested, and the demand has remained unmet for more than thirty (30) days.

“C. In addition to incurring civil liability under Section 17.96.090(B), the violation of or failure to comply with any of the provisions of this title is a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, a violator shall be punished by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100.00) or more than five hundred dollars ($500.00) and/or by imprisonment in the city or county jail for not more than ninety (90) days for each separate offense. Each day or portion thereof upon which a violation appears constitutes a separate offense…”

Among issues being considered is how to document violations, Scott said.

In closing the letter, Simpson is encouraging. “I truly appreciate your investment in downtown Aberdeen and invite you to share our commitment to ‘Building a Great City.’ “