Just off of the Interstate 90 Front Street exit, the monument sign in front of Sergio Barajas’ flooring business sits empty in the shadow of the towering Shell monument sign across the street.
Touchdown Flooring NW, which occupies the former Stereotomy space at 850 Front St. N., all but disappears from view for those exiting I-90, with only a canvas banner hung across its blank monument sign as advertisement.
Upon expanding and moving his 25-year-old business from Sammamish to Issaquah, Barajas was told by the city that he could not immediately replace the empty spot in the building’s monument sign with his own graphics. Barajas took over the lease of the building in November but waited until last week to re-open his business due to not having signage.
“I need to let my customers know we’re here,” Barajas said, throwing up his hands in despondence. “Why [does the city] give me such a hard time?”
The city’s Central Issaquah Plan, which was adopted in 2012, stipulated that no new monument signs would be allowed within the Central Issaquah area. Barajas had to file an Administrative Adjustment of Sign Standards application — a cost of $777.39 — to ask the city to grant him an exception.
“I would like to follow the rules and do it the right way … We are very honest people,” he said.
Sergio’s wife, Mia, said that the building’s monument sign has been in place for decades, and that she and her husband do not intend to enlarge it in any way.
“Our issue is, this sign has been there since the 1990s,” she said. “We just want to change the graphics.”
If the Adjustment of Sign Standards application is approved, the application for the sign permit will cost another $500. Adding in the price of the sign itself, everything will total around $3,000, Mia said, which is a burden for a small, family-run business.
City of Issaquah Associate Planner Jennifer Woods said that Touchdown is not the first business to run into this problem since the implementation of the Central Issaquah Plan, noting that the city is in a period of “adjustment of standards” to transition to the plan.
Woods said that while no new monument signs will be allowed, so as to allow room for businesses to expand closer to the street, this does not mean that monument signs already in place will be torn down.
“The motivation is to phase them out … monument signs take up a lot of room,” she said. However, “I don’t think the intent is to not allow monument signs.”
She said that businesses in Touchdown’s position, which only intend to put new graphics in an already existing sign, tend to be allowed to move forward.
“We recognized that for now, buildings like yours will still have a suburban pattern and the possible need for a monument sign,” said Deputy Head of Development Services Dave Favour in an email to Touchdown on Dec. 22.
However, Barajas said he is frustrated at how long it has taken to get any kind of response from the city, noting that he has been to City Hall and even waited “about a month” for an answer after emailing the mayor.
“I just want to let people know we’re here and get the business up and running,” he said. “The city doing this to us is hurting our livelihood.”
Barajas said he is also upset that the city has denied him other types of signage, even though he has seen them at other businesses in the central Issaquah area. He had a pennant-style flag made, but was told that this, too, was against city code.
Woods explained that “anything blinking, flashing … or moving in the wind” like the pennant flags is not allowed because the city “didn’t want to have signage be too busy and distract drivers.” She said that the city has a list available for business owners that defines what kinds of signs are permissible.
However, Barajas has seen pennants at big businesses, including Sprint on East Lake Sammamish Parkway and Game Stop, which he noted is just across the street from the city’s Public Works Department.
“There are probably a lot of people out there who don’t follow the sign code 100 percent of the time,” Woods said.