City reconsiders highway signs
Published: Friday, June 28, 2013 at 11:03 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 28, 2013 at 11:03 a.m.
Drivers on Highway 101 in Petaluma could soon have some extra reading material if a developer’s proposal to allow freeway-facing signs is passed.
Merlone Geier, developer of the future Friedman’s Home Improvement-anchored shopping center, has asked the City Council to allow signs that face Highway 101 on its property, which abuts the freeway. It has offered to pay Petaluma to study the matter and for any changes the city makes to its laws.
The issue first came before the council last May, when Regency Centers asked the city to allow lighted signs on the backs of buildings that face Highway 101 at the East Washington Place shopping center. The city’s sign code is part of a Petaluma zoning ordinance passed in 2008. It prohibits freeway-facing signs and advertising along the highway for aesthetic reasons.
But Regency argued that because many storefronts in East Washington Place are not visible from Highway 101, businesses would be unlikely to lease space if they couldn’t advertise on the backs of the highway-facing stores. The Plaza North and South Shopping Centers and Merlone Geier all supported Regency’s effort. But Regency’s proposal was voted down unanimously at the Planning Commission last June because commissioners felt the request was inconsistent with the city’s sign laws.
The City Council failed to pass the proposal as well, with council members Teresa Barrett, Gabe Kearney and then-Councilmember Tiffany Renée opposed. Mayor David Glass recused himself since he owned a large amount stock in Target at the time. Council members Chris Albertson, Mike Harris and Mike Healy supported the proposal. With a 3-3 tie, the proposal failed.
In November, the makeup of the council shifted, with newcomer Kathy Miller replacing Tiffany Renée. When Merlone Geier asked the city again to allow freeway-facing advertising in April, the new council agreed to explore allowing freeway-facing signs, albeit under strict stylistic guidelines.
While council members expressed an interest in revising the entire city sign code that applies not only to signs facing the freeway, but also to business signage throughout Petaluma, City Manager John Brown explained that doing so is not currently an option given financial and staff constraints. Brown explained that the only reason the city could afford to study the changes proposed by Merlone Geier is that the developers and shopping centers in town offered to cover the costs of the study and possible ordinance change — estimated to be about $10,000.
Councilmember Gabe Kearney voted against changing the city’s freeway-facing sign code last year, but voted to allow the study last week.
“I’m fine with it being studied, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for it,” he said. “My preference would be that we look at all the signs in town, but I understand our financial limitations. At least this gets it moving forward.”
Councilmember Teresa Barrett and Mayor David Glass again voted against reworking current sign laws. Barrett said she wouldn’t support any ordinance changes unless they were citywide.
“It’s us changing the law for a certain group of people who can pay for it,” said Barrett. “Isn’t that nice?” she added dryly.
Glass added that if the proposal succeeds and shopping centers are allowed to erect freeway-facing signs, it could negatively impact traffic by distracting drivers. “It’s interesting how fast developers can change the rules,” he said.
Councilmember Mike Healy pointed out that Petaluma already has several large signs that face the freeway at the Petaluma Outlet Mall stores and the Auto Mall. These businesses got around the city’s freeway-facing sign ban by arguing that the signs are intended for traffic on frontage roads and parking lots that exist between the stores and the freeway.
“If we came up with a universal sign ordinance, it could apply to those places too, once the tenants change over,” said Healy.
Ultimately, the council voted 5-2, with Glass and Barrett dissenting, to have staff study a possible sign code revision that would allow freeway-facing signs but would specify size, color, brightness and placement specifics. Staff will present a proposal first to the Planning Commission and then to the City Council sometime this year.
(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at firstname.lastname@example.org)
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.
You'll find a number of new technology features available from this site. With personalized news sent straight to your mobile device.
post your stuff
Petaluma360.com is here for you to post your comments, photos, news and events with the community. Post it now!
Have something to say? Join the conversation!
Upload your photos of community events, holidays, pets, cute kids, breaking news and more, and vote for your favorites!
Submit your area events to encourage others in your community to attend.