April 2, 2019 | Council Passes Sign Code
Posted on 04/08/2019

The Newcastle City Council roundups offer a digest of notable items for those who can't make it to the regular meetings. Listen to the audio from the April 2, 2019, meeting here and view the meeting agenda packet here. View past City Council roundups at newcastlewa.gov/councilrecaps.


After months of deliberation, the Newcastle City Council adopted a new sign code that both complies with a U.S. Supreme Court decision and allows City staff to better enforce it. 

The Reed v. Gilbert decision is driving jurisdictions to re-evaluate their sign regulations to ensure they don’t violate freedom of speech. In Reed v. Gilbert, the Supreme Court determined that a code that makes any distinctions based on the sign’s message is unlawfully content based. This position had the effect of making many sign codes across the United States, including Newcastle’s, unconstitutional. It’s not uncommon to see codes with certain content-based regulations for real estate, political and garage sale signs.

In March 2017, City staff introduced a model sign code drafted in response to the Reed decision. The model code was crafted, in part, by Newcastle’s own Community Development Director Steve Osguthorpe, and was made available to all jurisdictions as a baseline to ensure their regulations conformed with the Supreme Court decision.

Under Director Osguthorpe’s leadership, the City’s all-volunteer Planning Commission spent several months gathering public feedback and recommending specific changes to ensure the code reflected Newcastle values. The Newcastle City Council has been reviewing it since January.

There are a number of changes to the existing code, but one of the most noteworthy is the provision that regulates a sign based on the durability of its materials, rather than the sign’s message or content. Signs that are made of non-durable materials, such as paper, are considered temporary signs. The code limits the size and height of temporary signs. There are also restrictions on temporary signs' placement in landscaped areas.

Signs made of materials that are considered permanent (wood or hard plastic, for example) are subject to more restrictive permitting requirements. The exception to that rule is A-frame signs or sandwich boards, known as permanent portable signs. After listening to concerns from the real estate community, the City Council directed staff to change the model code to ensure such signs were allowed in residential zones without needing a permit.

During the April 2 meeting, the Council reversed a decision made on March 15, and chose to prohibit signs in medians for the final iteration of the code. Staff expressed serious safety concerns about people crossing roadways, especially high-traffic Coal Creek Parkway, to place signs. There was also concern about the clutter and visual impact of signs in the medians.

RESOURCES: April 2 Sign Code Agenda | Sign Code Draft | Sign Code Ordinance


— The City Council approved a proclamation recognizing April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the City of Newcastle.

The Newcastle City Council wants to hear from you! Members of the public are invited to share thoughts during public hearings or two open public comment periods at meetings. Regular meetings of the City Council occur on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at City Hall, starting at 7 p.m. You can also email your thoughts to councilmembers. To send a message to the entire council, email the city clerk at saram@newcastlewa.gov. You can also email them individually (view all councilmember emails here). 

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