County frames new sign code

Hood River county and city officials have negotiated a new commercial sign code for the Urban Growth Area that will protect the Texaco gasoline station near Exit 62.

On Monday, three representatives from the Hood River City Council visited the County Commission hearing to work out details for the new ordinance. Since the “urban fringe” is intended to eventually become annexed into the city, the municipality asked the county to comply with its planning request in those zones.

However, a debate arose this summer between county and city officials over whether a “freeway zone” should be established along County Club Road and West Cascade Avenue near the Interstate 84 interchange.

Mike Benedict, county planning director, said the key reason for that discussion initiated by the County Planning Commission was “fairness.” For example, he said the Texaco station at the western edge of the city derives the majority of its customer base from Interstate 84 traffic but is “virtually invisible” from the highway. Conversely, competing service stations at exits 63 and 64 have been allowed higher and larger signage.

During technical studies in 2000, the city decided that the larger advertisements at the central and eastern exits were warranted because the distance between them was too short for fuel/food/lodging signs and these businesses were screened by vegetation and low terrain.

But the city also acknowledged that the Texaco operated by Rachel and John Harvey warranted special consideration because it was hidden behind a rocky bluff. At the Sept. 16 county hearing, Mayor Paul Cummings and Councilors Linda Rouches and Paul Thompson agreed that the city needed to modify its sign code to provide protection for that business which has a 169-square foot sign that currently exceeds the allowable size under municipal standards.

The three city officials also gave the nod to some differences between its code and the county’s version. For example, the county will include provisions to “grandfather” existing signs so that business owners are not forced to pay expensive replacement costs. When those properties are annexed the city has also agreed to give business owners a grace period of seven years to meet the standards it adopted in 1992.

On a good parting note, the city agreed to start making revisions to its code to accommodate the Harveys’ business and the county agreed to present a draft version of its code for review and possible adoption on Oct. 21. Both parties believe the compromise will allow a “smooth transition” for commercial establishments when their properties are incorporated into the city limits at some point in the future. Unlike the city, the county will not charge a fee for new sign permits because these are considered part of the structure.

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