Car wash compliance deadline extended; sidewalk signs illegal

Two sidewalk signs in the right-of-way at 15th and Beacon. The car on the right is about to enter the intersection (and crosswalk) and make an illegal right turn onto 15th (the light was red by the time they made the turn, and the intersection is No Right on Red.) Photo by Wendi.
Two sidewalk signs in the right-of-way at 15th and Beacon. The car on the right is about to enter the intersection (and crosswalk) and make an illegal right turn onto 15th. (The light was red by the time they made the turn, and the intersection is No Right on Red.) Photo by Wendi.
The First Choice Car Wash at 15th and Beacon has been granted an extension on their compliance deadline for filing permits for the business. The new deadline is June 1. The building currently is permitted for a retail use, not for car washing, detailing, and stereo installation. However, as posted earlier, the building is also zoned NC2P-40 (Neighborhood Commercial 2, Pedestrian-Designated Zone, 40-foot height limit), which means that no drive-in or drive-through businesses are allowed. A change-of-use may not be possible in this location.

There is another minor violation of the law at that site as well, though it’s likely they didn’t realize it was against the law, and several other nearby businesses are doing it too. As it turns out, it’s illegal to put A-frame signs on sidewalks, except in certain business districts that have actually obtained special street use permits to allow and regulate them. Those districts are Broadway, Pioneer Square, and Pike Place Market. Period.

Beacon Hill cannot have these signs, legally, unless a Business Improvement Association, historic district, or Chamber of Commerce is formed here. The district group would then need to get 60% of the businesses in the area to sign on, carry $1 million in liability insurance, and then obtain a Street Use Annual Permit from the city. Who knew?

Even in districts that allow such signs, it is illegal to have more than one sign per business, and they have to be directly in front of the business. First Choice has had up to three signs in front of their shop, and one across the street.

Sidewalk signs are relatively harmless, but one can see why limiting each business to one would be a good idea. The signs are taking up space in the public right-of-way, after all. In the case of the car wash, the signs are right in the entrance to two crosswalks. This is probably not an ideal location for pedestrian safety. (Nor is their driveway, as can be seen in the photo with this post.)

Since Beacon Hill’s Chamber of Commerce has gone dormant, it’s not likely that sidewalk signs will be made legal on the Hill anytime soon. In the meantime, First Choice and several other local businesses are violating a law that most of us have probably never even heard of.

15 thoughts on “Car wash compliance deadline extended; sidewalk signs illegal”

  1. Illegal A-Frame signs were identified by the Pedestrian Advisory Board (before it was disbanded) as a significant threat to safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and the disabled. If a new neighborhood chamber of commerce were to request a variance, there is guaranteed opposition by pedestrian advocates, which is why only those three areas have them as grandfathered plans.

    In my neighborhood, I pick them up and throw them in the nearest dumpster. Abandoned property left illegally in the public right of way? LITTER.

  2. Eh, I don’t think they are automatically a threat. Placed reasonably, and limited in amount, I don’t have a problem with them. But there are some locations where they cannot be placed safely. This location is probably one of them.

  3. Um, I thought licensed car-washes had to have special holding tanks for their waste water? Is their run-off simply going into the sewer system? I’m surprised that this business hasn’t been shut down since it seems there are quite a few different code violations.

  4. Maybe Jason can fill us in, because he was at the last NBHC meeting, but I think someone at the meeting mentioned that the only requirement was that they use a special soap or something, so as long as the car wash is using the (biodegradable?) soap, it’s not a problem.

    I thought they had to have holding tanks too, though. I don’t know.

  5. I noticed last night they now have three different illegal A-frame sidewalk signs. The ones in the photo plus a super-tall red one.

  6. Neighbors-

    If you wish to comment to DPD on the Car Wash, you can do so on-line at the link below.

    Refer to the following case number:
    Case # 1018984

    And street address:
    2507 Beacon Ave S

    If you want to see the complaint status, look here:

    And while you are at it, put May 30th on your calendar and plan on attending the next DPD sponsored “Neighborhood Plan Update” meeting. Its sure to be interesting, and the situation with the car wash is directly related to the Neighborhood Plan.

    The meeting will be at El Centro again and go from 9 till 2. Lunch is provided.

    David Gackenbach

  7. Regarding the tanks comment, there are definitely special pre-discharge changes that need to be made to the sanitary system specifically for a car wash if they are not already in place. I think it is mainly adding an oil/water separator, but there may be more. Other changes would need to be made such as ground faulting electrical circuits, backflow prevention on water supply, etc. Some of this work may have been done for a previous use that the building had, but if there is no use permit there would be no inspection so nobody knows.

    I actually feel quite bad for these guys, even though I also feel the rules should be enforced. I wish they would have picked and hope they quickly find an appropriate location. I think the building owner has some responsibility here and probably turned a blind eye to the plans for the sake of finally renting the place. My guess is that the business isn’t going anywhere soon, due to the list of appeals that can be filed. Plus, I just don’t think the City has the stones to board up a business for anything less than life-threatening reasons. Although, if this was an unpermitted and improperly zoned strip club it would have been shut down in 2 days.

  8. As Wendi mentioned, at the last NBHC meeting, the water issue was brought up. A neighbor called the Seattle Public Utilities asking about what water treatment issues were required. The answer she got back was that they needed none, provided that they using an approved soap.

    Admittedly, this was just some phone droid who may or may not truly know what the regulations are on a car washing business, but…

    I chased this down the voicemail and switchboard rabbithole (from SPU main, to water, to SDOT somehow, to another main switchboard, to a voicemail box for someone I didn’t catch the name of but is apparently a waste-water management person) and am now waiting for a call back.

  9. Going down another rabbit hole, I wound up speaking with the very helpful Pat Magnuson at the King County Industrial Waste Program, and she said that if they’re discharging into the sanitary sewer (through a floor drain or the like, and not through the storm drain) and that all they’re doing is exterior car washes with soap (not engine steam cleaning), then all they need is a catch basin or other mechanism to trap solids. That’s it. Soapy water and ordinary exterior car dirt can go down the drain without restriction.

    If, on the other hand, they are doing engine cleaning, there would be additional restrictions, mostly regarding oil/water separation. And if there is discharge into the storm drains, that’s another kettle of fish entirely, and handled by the City of Seattle, not KC Industrial Waste.

    With regard to waste water treatment, specifically, I’d guess they either do already comply or would probably have little difficulty coming into compliance if they’ve got their own drains and are only doing exterior washes.

  10. Really appreciate all the time you and Wendi have spent researching this and many other concerns of Beacon Hill residents!

    Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY WENDI !!…if you’re birthdate listed on Amazon is correct.

  11. Building and plumbing codes require any floor drain in an interior space (covered by roof) to go to sanitary sewer, not storm drain. So, presuming the drains in their space were installed properly when they were installed years ago, it seems pretty likely they’re in compliance with the regulations noted by KC Industrial Waste (whenever the drains were installed, I’m sure the inspector would have made sure they were connected to sanitary sewer, not storm drain, as it’s a very clear requirement).

  12. Yes it is my birthday today! Thank you very much!

    Jason, I thought they were doing detailing as well — isn’t that on their price list? So that would mean they have the additional restrictions, wouldn’t it?

    One more thing — if anyone particularly wants to complain about the signs on the sidewalk, that doesn’t go to DPD, but to SDOT Street Use at 206-684-5267.

  13. Happy birthday!

    Does the car wash have at least 10 queuing spaces? That’s a requirement for a car wash in Seattle.

    SMC 23.47A.028 Standards for drive-in businesses.


    2. Car washes: a minimum of ten (10) queuing spaces.

    C. If the drive-in bank or car wash is located along either a principal arterial or a minor arterial, or along a street with only one lane for moving traffic in each direction, the Director will determine as a Type I Master Use Permit decision, after consulting with the Director of Transportation, whether additional queuing spaces
    are necessary or whether access should be restricted. The Director may restrict access to the facility from that arterial or street, or may require additional queuing space up to a maximum of:


    3. Car washes, twenty (20) spaces per lane.

  14. When I drove by the business yesterday I noticed the signs were not out on the corner any more — one was inside the garage door and another was right up against the building on the outside.

    And I wanted to say to Chris that, yes, I feel bad for the guys too. I don’t take any glee in noticing the violations at the site.

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