‘I will pay the fines’: Property owner violates city code with large sign opposing marijuana retail in Federal Way

Sign stirs controversy over property owner’s donation of building space to city for potential police substation.

Tom Cantrell has a message about marijuana retail in Federal Way – and he’s violating city code to publicize that information to passersby on Pacific Highway South.

He rented a large message board and placed it on his property at the former New Lumber and Hardware site last week that states: “Please vote no prop 1.”

City staff says the sign is too large and it must come down, but that doesn’t bother Cantrell.

“ … The sign will stay up, period,” he stated to a group of outraged Federal Way residents via social media earlier this week.

Orla Poole and Allison Taylor, both proponents of Proposition 1 that would allow marijuana retail in Federal Way if voters approve the measure this November, notified Mayor Jim Ferrell about the sign violation on Oct. 10.

Ferrell said he asked city staff that morning to look into the matter and find out whether the sign violated city code, who it belonged to and whether it was on private or city property.

The city’s code enforcement staff met with Cantrell on Monday at his property to explain the city’s sign regulations.

“In this case, the sign exceeded the allowable size limitation,” stated Brian Davis, the city’s community development director, to Poole via social media. “We issued a five-day warning letter. If the sign remains at the end of five days, we will issue a ticket and a fine. If the sign is removed and then later returns, we will go straight to a ticket and fine since the warning and opportunity for compliance was already given.”

Cantrell told the Mirror that when he first put the sign up last week, it never dawned on him that there would be any issue with the sign. When he discussed the issue with city staff on Monday, he told them, “I realized what I had done and it was too late at this point. I understood there would be fines.”

Taylor, the manager of the Yes to Prop 1 campaign, said she initially thought Prop 1 opponents put up the sign.

“Now I’ve learned that Mr. Cantrell knowingly ignored the laws in his attempt to make a statement about Prop 1,” Taylor said. “It’s concerning that he’s refusing to comply, being openly arrogant about paying the fines he will be issued by the city and is on the NextDoor app being condescending to neighbors. This says to me that he is willing to break laws to get his way.”

But Cantrell agrees that he is willing to go to such lengths as breaking the law – just as the American colonists did at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, Massachusetts in 1773.

“Did you ever read about the Boston Tea Party?” He asked. “Do you know why they threw tea into the harbor? That was unlawful. That’s why I’m doing it. It’s what you do when you feel a law supersedes the responsibility to protect the people or to educate the people.”

Cantrell is opposed to marijuana retail in Federal Way for many reasons.

“There seems to be an understanding that because a drug has been labeled recreational and it’s been legalized, it should be widely accepted without challenge,” he noted. ”It would seem to me as a parent, and I’m a grandparent, that we would not want to categorize any drug as recreational.”

Furthermore, one of the four proposed marijuana retail sites in Federal Way is two-tenths of a mile from Federal Way High School, he said.

“I know how many kids come past my building from Federal Way High School to go to the 7-Eleven,” said Cantrell, who said he has no association with the Con Committee opposing the ballot measure. “The 7-Eleven is within 250 feet from the building they’re proposing. A lot of the kids walk to the 7-Eleven during breaks and grab something to eat and hang out and walk back.”

Offering retail recreational drugs in the community is signaling acceptance to young minds that some drugs should be considered recreational, he believes.

However, Prop 1 proponents claim that Washington’s Department of Health reported that cannabis use among teens has stayed flat or decreased since legalization.

Cantrell said he accepts the medical qualities of cannabis.

“But if we have a choice in the community, I don’t see why we should bring it here just because everyone else has.”

Taylor is also concerned about the sign because it looks similar to the signs the city uses to promote Federal Way events, “so it’s very misleading to the public in an attempt to get people to think the city is taking their own stance on a ballot measure they sponsored.”

Tyler Hemstreet, the city’s communications coordinator, said the city does not want people to think that it is a city sign.

Police substation on Cantrell’s property

The sign also stirred controversy as Cantrell had previously offered the city space on the bottom floor of his building for a police substation. Residents questioned whether there was an improper connection between Cantrell and city officials, or if the city had exempted Cantrell’s sign from the enforcement process due to Cantrell’s donation.

However, the mayor said that is not the case.

“It’s very important that we apply our laws and ordinances uniformly and impartially and we will do so,” Ferrell said, adding that a municipal government should operate “with integrity and fidelity to the law and we’re going to do so.”

Ferrell said the police substation at the Pacific Highway South location is “under consideration,” however, it is not operational yet. The city has also not signed a memorandum of understanding.

Concerned residents have called on the city to reconsider opening a police substation at Cantrell’s property.

“The fact that this location is supposed to eventually house a police substation? I think it’s time to look elsewhere for space because doing business with this gentleman seems like a bad look for our city,” Taylor said.

Cantrell built the space out, installed bulletproof glass and wall material to accommodate the substation. He offered the city the free space long before the cannabis proposal was put forward, and said that contribution had no bearing on his decision to put up the sign.

“My offer to them no matter what happens with the cannabis issue is irrelevant,” he said, adding, “If people want to take that away because they think the optics are bad, I can’t imagine that the optics could be worse for educating people in the neighborhood that there are recreational drugs and they are OK to use.”

Cantrell plans to keep the sign up until the general election in November.

According to city code, a monetary penalty will accrue each day that the violation continues beyond the date set in the notice. Hemstreet said the city is determining a timeline for this specific incident in regard to how these penalties will accrue.

Cantrell expects the fines could reach $6,000, according to his estimation.

“I will pay the fines and I am happy to invite only those who have made the accusations/innuendos, to see me pay the fines,” he stated via social media.

He told the Mirror the only thing he demands from those who watch him write the check is “that they apologize to the city officials that they’ve condemned of having an improper relationship with me. I don’t know the mayor … I’ve never made any deals. This was just solely my decision.”