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Display rules enforcement raising fairness questions

Some Downtown business owners asking why them and not others
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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At least three Downtown Auburn businesses have received warning letters recently for outdoor display code violations. And they’re wondering if the rules are being applied uniformly. The stores all front the newly completed Streetscape project on Lincoln way. At Tango Frozen Yogurt, owner Lisa Swisley said she’s been told her two orange table-umbrellas are the wrong color. “They said I could have black, brown, dark green or burgundy,” Swisley said. “I don’t think (those colors) are very complementary to my business. They don’t scream frozen yogurt.” Swisley said that during the permitting process, city officials advised that the umbrellas had to be a solid color and coordinate with the building façade. “I like (the umbrellas) and don’t understand (the problem),” she said. “Everyone I talk to seems to like them.” Swisley, who was quick to add that she appreciates the city’s support to her as she has established her business, plans to appeal the ruling to the Historic Design Review Commission on July 6. “Hopefully, they’ll decide they love them, too,” she said. Down the street at Palco, a digital printing business, owner Pekka Liemola is closing his store after wrangling with the city over an easel he kept outside the front door. “I’m mad enough that I’m moving out,” he said. After a code enforcement officer visited the store and told him to remove the easel, Liemola said he complied initially. ”But when I walked around and saw all the other easels all over town, I put mine back out,” he said. “Then I received a letter from the city that if I didn’t remove the easel, I could be fined up to $500 a day.” Liemola said when he checked with owners of several Auburn businesses that keep items outside their stores, they told him they hadn’t received a code violation letter from the city. His next step was to complain to city officials about the apparent inconsistencies in code enforcement. According to Liemola, associate planner Lance Lowe advised him that the city plans to send out letters to all businesses that aren’t in compliance. “What upsets me most is the city is not fair with it,” Liemola said. “The code enforcement officer is not doing it for everyone — only where someone has filed a complaint.” Liemola has had his Downtown business for nine or 10 years and has been at his current Lincoln Way location for about two years. The easel sign helped attract walk-in business to the store, which now has less visibility and parking, he said. “I feel like I’m not wanted here,” he said. Next door, Kids Closet owner Denise Cardona also received a notice from the city, hers advising that she must remove the strollers she displays under the eaves outside her store. “(After Streetscape), the road is so much farther away and people really can’t see us, so we wanted to put something out to draw attention. It was really helping us get back on our feet financially after the construction,” Cardona said. “Soon after they were done with the (work), a code enforcement officer told us there had been a complaint and we had to bring in our things or we would be fined.” Cardona said she has counted at least 13 stores (in Auburn) with items displayed on the sidewalk. “Either there’s an ordinance or not an ordinance,” she said. “It doesn’t seem fair to enforce the ordinance on me and several doors down to allow neighbors to put out anything they want.” At the city’s Community Development Department, Lowe said the city had relaxed sign provisions a year ago in response to the economy, but now is revisiting that issue. “Old Town and Downtown Business Associations have asked us to enforce the sign requirements,” he said. “With respect to the relaxation of standards, the city temporarily allowed banners and the like to be installed through an informal permitting process.” Outdoor displays are not permitted, Lowe said, adding that he has a list of illegal signs in town. So far, code violation letters have been sent to half-a-dozen businesses, he said The City Council also has adopted specific design elements for the completed Streetscape project area. “Businesses can have outdoor seating if they obtain an encroachment permit,” he said. “That will go along with the planning permit and (the commission) will study what is being proposed to make sure it is consistent with the design standards adopted by the council.” The City Council is scheduled to discuss tightening signage and display standards when it meets July 12. Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.