CHS Community Post | An Urgent Call to Action Regarding Signage


  • Your chance to stop Seattle’s growing visual pollution & shape your City’s future visual environment for generations


  • Your chance to say NO to expanding the use & dumping of tons of toxic vinyl into our landfills
  • Your chance to voice your written (link below) and verbal comments to the City Council at the City Council Meeting Monday April 14th at City Hall

The Seattle City Council has before it a bill, CB117991, that proposes to amend the Sign Code portion of the city’s Land Use Code as it relates to wall signs and on-premises sign regulations. The Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resiliency is seeking comment on the proposed changes, in writing, by noon this Friday, April 11. Links below.

The proposal calls for establishing a 672 square foot area limit for all NEW on-premises wall signs located in Commerical, Seattle Mixed, Industrial, and Downtown zones. 672 square feet is an increase from 287 square feet in earlier drafts.

The proposal also calls to establish a 3,000 square foot area limit for all new on-premises wall signs for spectator sports facilities that have a seating capacity of 40,000 or greater and are located in Industrial zones.

To get a sense of these sizes I’ve prepared the accompanying infographics, relating the sizes to things we know and can relate to.

Councilmember Sally Clark is championing this poor legislation and rushing it through hoping the public doesn’t notice.  A group of concerned residents and professionals, this author included, believe these signs are way too big, way too intrusive into our cityscape, and probably illegal. A number of us, including the Seattle Design Commission, have also come out in favor of stopping this bad amendment and working with DPD to rewrite our Sign Code for the 21st Century and what Seattle could be today and into the future.

The wall signs being addressed by the Council Bill are not permanent: they are made from temporary, inexpensive plastic, plastic that cannot be recycled and goes directly to our landfills, all this in a city that has ostensibly cares about our environment and banned plastic bags and charges a bag fee for paperones now. Additionally, the advertising wallscapes material comes from Asia and is made from unknown materials and is being printed outside of Seattle with solvent-based inks (a fancy term for environmentally bad).

These “wall signs” are not really signs: they’re advertisements. For iPhones. For Montana travel. For Starbucks Frappucinos. And others. We’ve all seen them around town. Historically this type of advertising would be on billboards, freestanding, large signs. There are a number of them left in Seattle but they are on their way out, the existing ones grandfathered in.

One of the key arguments against these wall signs, sometimes called “wall scapes,” is that they do not meet Seattle Building Code.  Appendix H, Section H111, Wall Signs: “Wall signs which have an area exceed of 40 square feet shall be constructed of metal or other approved noncombustible material.” These signs are clearly larger than 40 square feet. And nowhere is it defined what “other approved noncombustible materials” might be.

It is important to note the key word “new” in the first part of the proposal. This means that all existing signs would be “grandfathered in.” Signs like the iPhone or current advertisement (“sign”) on the Macy’s Parking Garage would get to stay. There is question as to whether these signs are actually legal under the existing sign code and were illegally permitted by DPD. Adding to the complication and confusion is that there is a pending lawsuit by the city against the proliferators of these signs that in regards to this proposal is counterproductive to the city.

Did you know? Seattle was the birthplace of large scale, outdoor (now called out of home) advertising, by two dentists. There are old photos of Seattle with every available surface of every building plastered with advertising messages. It is also interesting to note that as the billboard advertising movement went back east, New York City said no immediately to billboards and wrote legislation and codes to control them and contain them, today, mostly to Times Square.

Did you know? Washington State created scenic byways legislation to prohibit large signs and advertising along our scenic routes in 1961, four years before Lady Byrd Johnson was instrumental in creating and getting Congress to pass the National Scenic Byways Act. It is apparent that long-time Washingtonians have taken great pride in their beautiful, natural environment.

The question before us, my fellow citizens, is whether we, as a citizenry, want gigantic “general advertising for hire” on non-sustainable vinyl taking up our cityscape that contradict our abiding green vision? There are people like me who consider this visual blight, visual pollution, and an assault on our senses. Perhaps that’s just a few of us. We don’t really know because Sally Clark and DPD have not been forthcoming with an open and orderly process of seeking citizen input.

To read about Council Bill 117991:

To contact City Council (by noon this Friday, 04/11).
Sally Clark:
Tim Burgess, Council President:
Sally Bagshaw:
Jean Godden:
Bruce A. Harrell:
Nick Licata:
Mike O’Brien:
Tom Rasmussen:
Kshama Sawant:
Sara Belz, Council Legislative Staff:

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