by Kirby LindsayThe Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) monitors potential violations of street use, including those that impact the sidewalk (and parking strips.) SDOT can issue violations for incorrect usage by signs, awnings, marquees, vending, sidewalk cafés, planters, benches, materials storage, fences, rockery and merchandise displays. According to Brian de Place, Street Use Division Right-of-Way Manager for SDOT, a recent spate of violations issued to area businesses all come down to the City’s need to maintain access and keep the public safe.
Immediately upon receiving violation notices for ‘merchandise displays,’ business owners Ken Bartlett (Stoneway Hardware) and Kathy Goodwind (Gasworks Park Kite Shop) removed the items. When customers heard why, some commented on the anti-small business nature of such City policies.
“I don’t think that is the case at all,” responded de Place. “We don’t have a problem with it,” he explained, “these merchandise displays add a lot of vibrancy.” Yet, they use public space and, “we want to explain the rules and make [sidewalks] accessible to everyone. We are not asking them to remove the display,” he insisted, “we want to assure safety and pedestrian mobility.”
Bartlett has commented, “it’s almost like they are sitting on lawn chairs watching us. I’m just getting permitted to death.” Bartlett already pays annually for a sign permit, and now the City will make more revenue by charging him for items placed directly in front of his business. “I’m paying $285 a quarter to have the privilege,” he explained in exasperation.
When asked if issuing violations, and demanding permits (and fees), could be an attempt to generate revenue, de Place insisted there wasn’t money to be made. “The permit fee is just over $100 a year,” he said, and is “only to cover the costs of doing the job.” SDOT issues and regulates 18,000 permits annually.
de Place sees the inspectors’ jobs as out-reach and information to business owners, to let them know about an issue that needs to be corrected. “Our goal is to get people to come in and get a permit,” he said; to make the streets safe and accessible for all, “that’s really the objective.”
Inspectors can spot violations, and citizens can complain about those they encounter. To report a problem, call the SDOT Street Use Division at 206/684-5253, during business hours.
Sandwich Boards Revisited
As to whether Stoneway Hardware or Gasworks Park Kite Shop could switch to using a sandwich board (or A-frame sign) to attract business, and avoid paying permit fees, de Place admitted, “they are, technically, illegal.”
SDOT does not regulate sandwich boards. They come under the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) sign code. de Place did say the City is at work to make sandwich board regulation clearer and, in the meantime, “we are allowing one per business, as long as it is adjacent.” He also admitted he’d like to see, “a small, humble piece of legislation to make them legal.”
Return To a Vibrant Street-scape
Finally, much of the merchandise at Stoneway Hardware, when they received the violation, actually stood on their property – not the sidewalk. By phone de Place could not comment on whether this violates a merchandise display code, although he did agree stores can display merchandise on their property without a permit. For questions on permits, and what is and is not allowed, check the SDOT web page on permits, or e-mail with specific questions.
Goodwind did speak directly with de Place, and felt clearer about the permit process after their conversation. She has reconsidered abandoning her wind garden display, and said she will apply for a permit - when she has time to do so. Bartlett also intends to get a permit, in addition to the many others he and his partners will purchase to open their second store, Stoneway Hardware – Ballard, this fall.
The City must maintain our streets for all, while small businesses must be allowed to conduct business. It is to be hoped that both can work together, but also that, in Fremont, an attempt to make ‘all’ happy will not result in blank, cookie-cutter store fronts or, worse, empty ones.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.