YAKIMA, Wash. — The city of Yakima Planning Commission directed staff to set dates for separate public hearings on regulating recreational marijuana and potential revisions to city billboard and digital sign ordinances.
The city already has a moratorium on producing, processing and selling marijuana that ends May 6, and also has moratoriums on new billboards and electronic signs through the first week of April. But the nuances and public interest in both issues has created a balancing act that has some planning commissioners feeling a sense of urgency to have the issues resolved by the time their respective moratoriums end.
“We can complete both items in a timely manner paying close attention to the moratorium schedule,” co-chair Dave Fonfara said.
Commissioner Al Rose said he was concerned the holiday season would delay progress on both issues until next year. Commissioners had previously canceled a public hearing on billboards and digital signs that had been set for Nov. 27.
Bill Cook was the only other commissioner present Wednesday. Chairman Ben Shoval and commissioners Scott Clark and Paul Stelzer were absent from the meeting.
The commission will look at public hearing dates at its next meeting Dec. 11.
Commissioners spent most of Wednesday’s meeting rehashing a presentation from Community Development Director and Planning Manager Steve Osguthorpe on options for limiting the spread of billboards and the brightness of digital signs in Yakima, including banning new billboards all together.
The original moratorium on billboards, traditional and digital, was approved in April after staff raised concerns that the city’s design standards were too loose and that the proliferation of signs on North First Street complicates the city’s plans to improve the streetscape. The Yakima City Council extended the moratorium Oct. 1.
Representatives of the outdoor advertising industry have complained the city isn’t doing enough to differentiate between off-premise billboards and large on-premise signs that promote the business located on that property, such as restaurants and stores, which they say have a direct benefit to the local economy.
Osguthorpe said the city isn’t trying to take signs away from local businesses. He said he wants the city to develop an ordinance that allows for a more coordinated approach to revamping its image while also making room for business signs.
“I want to make it clear this is not a discussion about eliminating signage,” Osguthorpe said. “Signage is the lifeblood of the (business) community.”
Planning around the issue of recreational marijuana may also require the city to revisit a 2011 ordinance that was passed in reaction to changes to the state’s medical marijuana law. That ordinance banned the sale of anything considered illegal under federal law in the city of Yakima, said assistant city attorney Mark Kunkler.
“That code is still on the books, but today we’re dealing with what the voters approved in 2012 with regard to recreational marijuana,” Kunkler said, referring to Initiative 502.
In October the Yakima City Council narrowly rejected a push by some members to clearly ban recreational marijuana in the city’s zoning codes.
The state has capped the number of licenses to sell marijuana at 334 across Washington. It will issue up to 14 in Yakima County: five in Yakima, one each in Selah, Sunnyside and Grandview, and six at-large sites, which could be anywhere.
Based on site restrictions in I-502, many areas of Yakima are already off limits to recreational marijuana facilities.
Right now, though, several residential areas, especially in west Yakima, are open for such operations, according to city staff. Kunkler previously said the city can restrict where such businesses go, much like it has with strip clubs and other adult entertainment venues.