Oops. City violates its own sign ordinance, now considers options

The City of Kirkland inadvertently installed an electronic readerboard which, if used, would violate the city's sign ordinance. What happens when a city violates its own sign ordinance? We will soon find out.

A reader informed us that there was something awry with the new electronic readerboard sign recently installed at the North Kirkland Community Center (NKCC). We looked into it and she was right. We found that the sign, if activated, would violate the city's sign ordinance and actually should not have been installed there.

At the February 1 Kirkland City Council meeting, a discussion about the city sign ordinance arose after a report indicating the new readerboard sign at the NKCC is in violation. As Kirkland Views reported in December (see New electronic signs at Fire Stations improve communication), readerboard signs are helpful in communicating with the public during emergencies. It seems that such signs are only allowed at fire stations and the one at the NKCC will need to go, remain turned off, or the ordinance needs to be changed.

Options available to the city are:

  • leave the electronic readerboard turned off as is the case today
  • remove the electronic readerboard and install it at a fire station in the future
  • modify the city sign ordinance to allow the electronic readerboard to remain at the NKCC

Fortunately, we are told, the cost of this episode was minimal and a remedy is in the works.

We asked the City of Kirkland for a response and they provided the following:

In 2009, the Council approved zoning code amendments to allow pedestal signs with a readerboard having electronic programming at fire stations and two high schools (signs are not applied for or installed at the schools).  In 2010 the Council approved code amendments to allow similar signs at fire stations in the annexation area after June 1, 2011.  Also in 2010, the Council denied a request from Holy Spirit Lutheran Church for a code amendment to allow an electronic readerboard at the church.

Electronic readerboard signs at the fire stations were identified as an emergency management project in the Capital Improvement Program.  The signs will serve as an emergency communications tool. Fire stations have generators and the signs can be operational during a power outage.   Fire Stations 21, 22, 26 and 27 and the North Kirkland Community Center (NKCC) were identified as the sites to receive the signs as they have generator-powered capabilities.  Fire Station 27 will receive its sign after annexation because King County code applies to site at this time and does not provide for such signs.

In the City’s emergency plan the NKCC serves an important function as a Disaster Support Facility (e.g. emergency shelter) equipped with a permanent generator.  It is located on an arterial – NE 124th Street – and is easily accessible to the public.  Another similar support facility is the Peter Kirk Community Center, although it does not have a permanent generator.  Holy Spirit Lutheran as well as other churches in the community are also shelters for use in emergencies.

The Planning Department reviewed the sign permit applications and approved the NKCC sign permit in error not realizing that the code only applied to fire stations.  The error was not realized until the sign was installed.  The sign is currently in compliance as the electronic readerboard feature is disabled.