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Federal Way real estate agents take issue with sign code

The Land Use and Transportation committee will re-examine and possibly amend its sign code, which has recently upset several local real estate agents.

For the second time in the past month, real estate agents opposing the code piled into Federal Way City Hall on July 7 to request the city provide exceptions to agents who are struggling to sell homes in a slumped market.

“I think this is something we really need to look at,” committee member Dini Duclos said.

Real estate agents continue to argue that knowing where to place their signs, especially open house announcements, is a guessing game that becomes expensive to play when the approximately $40 signs are confiscated by the city.

Sam Pace, with the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors, told the committee Monday that the city’s enforcement of the sign code is in violation of the First Amendment — freedom of speech. He reminded committee members that the city’s code sets forth clear objectives, but allows for discretion of how those should be obtained.

The code is a de facto ban on the use of off-site real estate signs, Pace said. Real estate agents requested the city authorize open house signs for four to six hours a day or during the weekends to allow agents to sell homes that community members so desperately need to sell.

“It’s tough for those sellers out there and we’re trying to help them out,” Federal Way real estate agent Maureen Donhauser said.

The city determined early this year that stricter enforcement of the code was needed due to the increased clutter of signs on street corners and in public right-of-ways.

But the Land Use and Transportation committee took the opportunity to discuss the code further after public testimony at the July 1 city council meeting and Monday’s committee meeting.

Duclos said she has a neighbor who has been attempting to sell her home for more than a year and did not want to make the process more difficult for the woman, and others like her, by discouraging open house signs.

“I didn’t think of the ramifications involved,” Duclos said.

She admitted that during initial discussions of the code, the committee was shown a photograph of signs placed on the corner of South 320th Street and 1st Avenue. All three committee members thought the signs were legally placed — and were surprised to learn a hidden utility marker located farther from the street put the signs in violation of the code.

Ripple effects:

The issue has been brought to the committee’s attention primarily by real estate agents, but the problem affects local community organizations and businesses as well, Duclos said.

Bob Kellogg of the Federal Way Kiwanis Club told committee members he recently placed several signs for the club’s annual salmon bake, but had signs removed by city staff.

“I really tried to put these in spots inside of the code as I understood it,” he said.

City council member Jim Ferrell asked staff if they could be more flexible and lenient when picking up illegally placed signs. The code does not allow for signs that were placed in good faith but still do not live up to the code, he said.

“Essentially what we are talking about is speech,” Ferrell said. “There should be more flexibility.”

He suggested city staff work with a representative group from the community to find a solution that allows for sign placement, but keeps the city’s streets clean and safe. Changes or exceptions to the code can be made, but would require an amendment, said Greg Fewins, Community Development director.

Kellogg said he requested a code enforcement officer accompany him as he placed signs throughout the city on Tuesday. He learned why some of the club’s signs were confiscated and helped the officer understand why community members have a problem with the existing code.

“If they are going to change the code, why not grab a few of us and take us around and let us show them what we are talking about?” Kellogg said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

F.Y.I:

The city’s sign code is long-standing and has not changed recently. Enforcing the code became a bigger focus this year as signs began to create clutter.

All signs must be placed behind an imaginary line identified by the utility marker farthest from the street. Those placed in the public right-of-way are now picked up by the city and can be reclaimed by paying a $5 charge.

Maps, demonstrating where signs can legally be placed, were sent to all the real estate offices in the South King County area, building official Lee Bailey said.

The Land Use and Transportation committee will discuss the code and staff’s recommendations again at 5:30 p.m. July 21 at City Hall, 33325 8th Ave. S.

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