Change is tough. Especially in Edmonds, and even more so when the target is seen by many as an icon of community identity.
Latest case in point: The “Welcome to Downtown Edmonds” sign that has greeted motorists for four decades as they drive into downtown along Edmonds Way/State Route 104 — a gateway that many see as the city’s front door.
The sign sits at the junction of SR 104 and 5th Avenue South in a triangle of grass controlled by the Washington State Department of Transportation but maintained by the City of Edmonds. It is a familiar and sentimental sight to visitors and residents alike.
The old wooden sign is definitely showing its age, with cracked and peeling paint and wood weathered beyond repair. Repairing or replacing it has been on the city’s to-do list for more than a decade, but it kept getting pushed back in favor of higher priority projects, budget cutbacks and the various other vagaries faced by all municipalities as they try to strike the balance between worthy tasks, available labor and funds.
At last week’s Edmonds City Council meeting, the council’s Parks and Public Works committee approved a new replacement for the sign and forwarded it to the council consent agenda for approval at the Tuesday, July 17 council business meeting.
Word of this had no sooner hit the streets than fans of the existing sign began rallying to its defense. And it’s not just the design. Some also question the proposed $40,000 price tag.
“The old sign is very nostalgic and creative,” McMurray said in an email to City of Edmonds Arts and Culture Manager Frances Chapin Wednesday. “In comparison, the new proposed signage is pretty basic and not very inspiring. The existing one has lots of character. The current sign is a beloved landmark in Edmonds and I can’t believe you’re replacing it with that basic thing.
“What does not represent our town more than the main signage leading into its Downtown Art district, cresting over the hill seeing Double Bluff of Whidbey Island?” he continued. “It’s a totally unique entrance to a totally unique town. The committee should have recognized this space as sacred and put more thought into signage and or replacing our already beloved sign.”
According to Chapin, the new sign was developed in accordance with a set of design standards recently adopted by a committee comprised of representatives from the City of Edmonds Arts Commission, Economic Development Commission and the Planning Board, along with city staff from Parks and Economic Development.
“People had complained about the hodge-podge of confusing, unreadable signs, and the committee attempted to address this by coming up with a consistent set of standards,” Chapin said.
The design standards are incorporated into the current Edmonds Strategic Plan, where they can be seen on page 28.
The chosen design for the new sign — white-lettered “Downtown Edmonds” against a blue background — was one of several alternatives developed by Clayton Moss, owner of Edmonds-based design firm Forma. The firm was also involved in signage design for Hazel Miller Plaza and the Edmonds Historical Museum Plaza.
“Our goal was to have a clean, easy-to-read design that would be consistent with the several wayfinding signs going up throughout the city,” Chapin said. “It’s in a spot that people drive past at a pretty good clip, so they need to be able to see it clearly, absorb the message quickly, and get back to their driving. Much of the charm of the existing sign is lost when passing at 40 miles per hour.
The current wooden sign, Chapin said, is “really the kind of sign that should be placed somewhere where folks could park, examine it, interact with it, and maybe take pictures of their kids next to it.”
Chapin also defended the $40,000 price tag, remarking that the new design is fabricated from aluminum and will incorporate solar-powered LED lighting (utility lines do not extend to the site). Custom foundations will be dug to support the sign, and more extensive landscaping “reflective of Edmonds beaches” will be added. She added that the curved design was intended to reflect the view across the Sound and the outline of Whidbey Island. (See the full design document here.)
“This is about what something like this should cost,” she said. “The price tag is reasonable.”
Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association (DEMA) President Tracy Felix also supports the new design. While acknowledging that McMurray’s points “are well made to preserve the nostalgic and creative aspect of our downtown,” Felix noted that the signage program “has been designed and implemented throughout Edmonds. It is established. The signage precedent has been set. ”
This dialogue has not been lost on the members of the Edmonds City Council. Council President Mike Nelson has pulled approval of the new gateway sign from next Tuesday’s consent agenda, and instead plans a full presentation and discussion.
“I changed the agenda because I want this item discussed before the full council so we can all provide input, hear from the good folks who worked on this sign design, and hear from the public,” Nelson said in an email. “My main concerns are 1) is this really the best use of taxpayer dollars? and 2) does this design reflect the character of our city?”
Other councilmembers also weighed in via email on the issue.
“I have two major concerns,” said Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas. “I think that since this is our welcoming sign into Edmonds we need to have a more public input, and it seems to be very costly.”
Added Councilmember Dave Teitzel: “I believe it is important to have consistency in the appearance of city-related signage in Edmonds. From my perspective, the proposed sign at the confluence of SR 104 and 5th Avenue achieves visual consistency with other recently installed wayfinding signage in our city.
“However,” Teitzel added, “it is reasonable to consider citizen input on this issue balanced against the goal of signage consistency. Additionally, I believe we should consider signage more broadly to include other areas of our city. For instance, we should consider ‘Welcome to Edmonds’ signage at the Edmonds city limit on SR 104 near Lake Ballinger, at Perrinville, the Meadowdale area, etc. Frankly, in those areas it is difficult to discern where Lynnwood or Mountlake Terrace end and where Edmonds begins.”
As the latest chapter in Edmonds’ long tradition of balancing change with retaining pieces of local heritage, the debate over the “Welcome to Downtown Edmonds” sign follows a host of others that include Save our Log Cabin, Save the Gazebo and Save the Brackett’s Landing Whale sculpture. The Fifth and Main Gazebo may be gone, replaced by the Cedar Dreams Fountain, but the Log Cabin and Whale Sculpture (rescued literally on its way to the landfill) are still with us, ultimately saved by grassroots efforts.
The sign’s future hangs in the balance, and may well be decided at the July 17 City Council meeting.
— By Larry Vogel