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First ag change: County eases restrictions on off-premise signs

Off-premise signs, now illegal, will soon be allowed under an updated zoning code.              - Richard Walker / Herald
Off-premise signs, now illegal, will soon be allowed under an updated zoning code.
— image credit: Richard Walker / Herald

HANSVILLE — Those signs you see at street corners, promoting farm products and sales? They were illegal until May 18.

Kitsap County has eased its rules related to off-premise signs in order to help agriculture-related businesses market their products in the 2013 growing season. And more changes are in the works.

The sign issue came to a head — as did tempers — last year when the county fined farmers for off-premise signs that had long been placed at the corner of Hansville and Eglon roads last year. Other areas were targeted as well.

Off-premise signs aren’t allowed under the current county code. And traffic engineers are concerned that a “plethora of signs” at intersections could be a traffic hazard by causing distractions, according to Katrina Knutson of the county Department of Community Development. “It wasn’t just ag signs,” she said.

The county didn’t have time to complete an update to the sign code in time for the 2013 growing season, and initiated a pilot program which provides flexibility to the existing code (KCC 17.445) and collects data as to what works and does not in regard to signs.

A public hearing about the pilot program is scheduled July 8, 5:30 p.m., at 614 Division St., Port Orchard.

Farmers say off-premise signs help potential customers find them and their products, because their farms are often located away from thoroughfares.

Under the pilot program, farmers are allowed up to four off-premise signs, 24 inches by 30 inches in size, Knutson said. Signs can be placed three days prior to an event or sale, and must be removed one day following. A sign must be setback at least 200 feet from an intersection. The pilot program applies to all seasonal and event-related off-premise signs.

The program allows for online, no-fee registration and includes a survey so the program can be evaluated.

County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido said the pilot program will help the county finalize an update to the sign code, which is part of the county’s zoning regulations.

“We did this as an interim because we wanted to ensure we had [an off-premise] rule in place during the growing season,” she said. “What really needs to happen is we need more public discourse. There is some mutual learning that needs to happen here. There are operations that didn’t know what the code allows, or didn’t understand where the zoning regulations were.”

It’s the first in several changes to come affecting ag-related businesses.

Heidi Kaster said she didn’t know retail nurseries were precluded from operating in rural residential zones until 2009, when the county shut her down. She said that was 10 years after the county Department of Community Development told her she could move her nursery from Bainbridge to her Hansville Road home — located in a rural residential zone — because it was a “hobby farm.” Steve Bauer, who was the District 1 county commissioner then, said he advocated on her behalf, and Kaster received an operating permit.

Bauer said in an interview earlier this year that he thought Dragonfly Farms to be “consistent with the character of a rural area.” But Kaster got the wrong message. She said she didn’t know retail nurseries are not allowed in rural residential zones because of the traffic they generate. Only wholesale nurseries are allowed.

Larry Keeton, director of Community Development, said the county did not take any action against Kaster’s retail nursery because the County Commission was looking at updating the county code.

Meanwhile, Dragonfly Farms evolved into a destination. Kaster built a coffee shop and hosted tour groups, weddings and a writers’ conference. She said she didn’t get a county building permit for her coffee shop because the building size and construction cost fell under the threshold of requiring one. A county health department inspector signed off on Kaster’s coffee shop, although county officials say the building would have been identified as a non-conforming use in the building permit process.

Keeton said those uses all generate impacts “that have to be addressed. She is not operating a hobby farm.”

Earlier this year, the county asked Kaster to apply for a conditional use permit, after more than one neighbor complained about activities there that are not allowed in rural residential zones.

Kaster hired a lawyer and a permitting consultant to help her through the process, which cost her $5,800 in county fees. Jeff Rowe, deputy director of Community Development, said her application is under review and will be the subject of a public hearing.

Rowe said the county will modify its agricultural zoning code next year. “When you think of an industrial zone, you think of a hammer and anvil, but industry could be data,” he said. “The same with agriculture. A farm isn’t just row crops.”

A resident in a rural zone can have a home-based business, but it requires a permit of some kind depending on the impacts — traffic or otherwise — that the business creates, Rowe said.

Garrido said “clarity is definitely needed” in the code and in the application process.

“Farming is a different kind of land-use practice,” Garrido said. “We have some great young farmers who may not be as clear on some existing regulations, and that’s why we are having some discussions. Our goal is, how do we get there satisfactorily for everyone.”

 

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