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City to Reevaluate Ban on Freeway-Facing Signage

Council votes 3-2 to grant developer's request to move signs for Target shopping center and directs city planners to amend the zoning code to make it easier to approve future signage on backs of stores.

Freeway facing store signs could become more common in Petaluma, after the city council directed city planners to reevaluate Petaluma's ban on freeway-facing signs on retailers located next to Highway 101. 

In a 3-2 vote, the council also voted to approve a request by Regency Centers, which is building a 378,000 square foot shopping center at East Washington Street and Kenilworth, to move a 30-foot sign to the middle of the shopping center.

Last month, the Planning Commission rejected the developer's plans to erect 60 foot signs outside the shopping as well as place signs on the back sides of businesses to make them visible to motorists on Highway 101. But Regency appealed the request, arguing that stores would not come to Petaluma if they could not get signage.

“We need to provide maximum identity for these tenants,” said Ryan Nickelson, vice president of investments for the Florida-based Regency Partners. “Regardless of what people thought of the project, it’s been approved, it’s being built and we all want it to succeed. The signs will give the stores an identity.”

Nickelson said all the signage for the center, which will include a Sprout’s natural food store, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Ulta cosmetics, would be “tasteful” and uniform in color and only glow at night.

But Councilmember Teresa Barrett said the argument that shoppers would be lost without the freeway-facing signs was disingenuous and that rewriting the ordinance that now bans all freeway facing signage would lead to every retailer with property abutting the freeway requesting it.

“You bring people to Petaluma because of the opportunities it offers, not because they see a TJ Maxx and say to themselves, ‘Oh, I needed to go there,’” Barrett said.

“This will change the whole way Petaluma looks. It will become just another section of Rohnert Park or Vacaville or some other place we don’t want to be.”

Speaking directly to the developer, Barrett said that the proposed shopping center's buildings were ugly and had no architectural value. She also chastised Regency for altering Petaluma’s “master sign program” that has over the years protected the city from visual blight.

“Petaluma has been protected from that because of our ordinance,” Barrett said. “Certainly you’ve done your homework, so you knew what you were getting yourself into.”

The other opposing vote came from Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee. Mayor Dave Glass recused himself because he owns Target stock and Gabe Kearney was absent.

Meanwhile Councilmember Chris Albertson said Regency’s request for signage should be approved because other retailers, including those at the Petaluma Outlets, Raley’s and dealerships along Auto Row have freeway-facing signs.

“If we’re going to have signs on the backs of one store, we need to have them for the others,” Albertson said. “We need to give them fair opportunity to pursue the customer…I am sensitive to the visual blight, but these (Regency’s) signs take that into consideration.”

But it was Councilmember Mike Healy who proposed altering the existing zoning ordinance to give Planning Commission the flexibility to approve freeway signs in the future, calling it a "win-win.”

“I don’t have a problem with our current signs facing the freeway,” Healy said. They are restrained and a lot better than in many other places…We want this shopping center to be successful and this is what we need to do.”

What do you think of the vote? Are you concerned that freeway-facing store signage will ruin Petaluma's character? Take our poll.

mikeg55 May 08, 2012 at 07:27 PM
The shopping center has already been approved. Let them have their signage so commuters and tourists will know they can spend their money in Petaluma. Petaluma's charm can't be seen from the freeway anyway. You have to go into the city, and signage will get more people off the freeway which is the first step to discovering Petaluma.
LongTimeLocal May 08, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Well, if it does happen, I agree that Petaluma's charm can't be seen, how about moving the visitor center there so downtown is easily known about. But EVERY shopping center would now be able to do this, and it's not just freeway, it's main routes and on/off ramps etc, and they will, and if turned down, lawsuits will ensue and we all lose out by defending them. We will be awash in neon in no time, especially as Plaza North and South have already agreed they want the same, and the new Rainier center will also want it, not counting all the other smaller centers. The planning commission approved the design, using well known guidelines, and on the basis of rear screening as the back side is plain ugly, and Regency broke ground on that approved plan - now they want to change the rules and essentially use the back walls as 'tasteful' billboards? They even felt so confident that the city would have to agree to this they wrote this into their leases as a contingency meaning this was in their plans all the time - the City just wasn't aware of it. Plans were developed using one set of rules, something they now intend to try their best to ignore, and open up the whole city to a change in ordnance. Sneaky.
Patrick M. May 09, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Sneaky? Changing the rules? Sure glad the city was completely forthright with this project. I don't remember the city disclosing up front that this project would face 8 years of process before they could even break ground. I seem to recall that the auto mall sign was the cause of much angst and guess what; the world kept right on spinning.
LongTimeLocal May 09, 2012 at 04:21 AM
And do you remember that the Auto Mall sign had to be turned down to half power after much angst as it literally lit up the whole East side? Were you among those living a mile away yet still having your bedroom lit up by it? I guess not. Compromise was grudgingly reached but we were stuck with too many sleepless nights in the meantime. Now, don't mistake me for an opponent of this project - I'm not - and this whole thing was certainly not the City's finest hour and it's a wonder anyone wants to do business here. Regency were sneaky by effectively holding the City hostage to a decision that changes the rules for everyone, and not in a good way. Regency were not upfront on their promises to make the tree screen useless by effectively promising their tenants they'd take care of it with the city. So what they propose, tasteful or not, will now light up the neighborhood across the 101 permanently and that's the issue, and that's why screening with trees, agreed to by Regency is important. I had thought we'd got past that 8 years of delays that I agree with you on, then Regency pulls this stunt? Yes, Regency were delayed by several years, but the neighborhood will be stuck with illumination they have no control over for as long as Regency stands. A few extra years delay vs. a permanent blight for our community - think of it that way. That's what's wrong.
Ptown May 09, 2012 at 04:36 AM
The planning (laughing) commission is a joke. They never do their actual job and force unneeded more decisions for the council. Regency is not being sneaky , this is ordinary final touches on a project. Seems like when Regency started the process, the 101 casino sign was being erected. As for the hood across the way, they will have tree screens on both sides of the freeway plus a brand new sound wall coming soon. Thanks council for the compromise.
LongTimeLocal May 09, 2012 at 05:42 AM
Actually the rather smug Regency rep talked about how the trees would be topped so 'visual corridors' - meaning visible lighted signs would be created. And the point being missed is if passed, EVERY center will have the same right so just hope you don't live near one, or at least within visual range. Agreed 8 years is crazy and the PC did what can only be described as a shoddy job, then again it was the city that kept sending plans back for more study. That said I hope that Target and all come to town. I just don't want our community to be a sea of neon (yes, people, the shadow boxes are neon, though I would agree a little less garish. Still, everyone will want this so it's not just one exception. It's a huge policy change that impacts the whole city and represents future policy. So, let's agree that the limit was already pushed past the PC in many cases - how do you imagine the exceptions of the future will look?
Kari Lobdell May 09, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Petaluma's value is greatly reduced by this monstrosity. Look at Novato from the freeway. Would you stop there if you were a tourist? I will probably move away from Petaluma because the home prices don't reflect real value and this place is becoming a bad investment. Why buy a home in a place that supports huge corporate interest over the will of the people? Ugly developments are taking over the city. Pottersville, anyone?
ptowner May 09, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Tacky strip malls with loud signage and asphalt plants. Petaluma isn't headed in the right direction. Who comes to Sonoma County to visit a TJ Maxx and an Ulta? They just brand our town as a place not to visit if you have tourist dollars to spend. Thank you city council for making Petaluma a less desirable place to live and visit.
Alyssa May 09, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Santa Fe has dealt with this by having standards for building appearance, sign design (so that they have a lovely, country style appeal to the eye and not just brand shouting out) and by requiring the developers to truly create lovely spaces for community-- thing the village or town center in Corte Madera-- the work and they don't have brazen, ugly brand signage near the highway-- people want to go there because the builders and tenants have creates a lovely, welcoming space for the community.
Alyssa May 09, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Santa Fe has dealt with this by having standards for building appearance, sign design (so that they have a lovely, country style appeal to the eye and not just brand shouting out) and by requiring the developers to truly create lovely spaces for community-- thing the village or town center in Corte Madera-- the work and they don't have brazen, ugly brand signage near the highway-- people want to go there because the builders and tenants have created a lovely, welcoming space for the community.
Active Thinker May 09, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Agree 100% with ptower...the signs are lame...they look and make a town feel like every other sell out soperate town in america....the auto sign is gross...it's a waste of nice space and is way to bright....
The Fool May 10, 2012 at 04:43 AM
Kudos to the Planning Commission for having the courage to do what the Council, apparently, cannot. In other words, to do their job. For people who believe we should "just get it done" at any cost or appearance, sorry process and a long-term vision interferes with making Petaluma into Rohnert Park's P-Section. I don't want to live in a Giant Strip Mall; I am heartened by others who feel this way.
Petaluma Seer May 10, 2012 at 11:07 PM
You can thank CC Healy for this. Once again he is attempting to give this town away to developers. He needs their $$$$$'s to fund his reelection campaign. He is just an old school, ineffective weak govt. official, pandering blatantly for funds. Historically his election funds are heavily weighted with developer $$$'s. He would love to see Petaluma look like Burbank, Ca. Are people supportibve of this, and him? A few weeks back he gave a green flag vote to the Deer Creek development refusing to address the traffic of a potential casino coming in RP, or the reality of a no Rainier in our future. Now he wants people to see him as a stong leader in stopping the Casino due to traffic concerns. Oh.....NOW he cares about traffic? The Indidans see him as a weak Petaluma official who speaks with forked tongue. Ergo, they moved rapidly to get approval for their Casino. Why not? Every other developer has bowled him over, and over again.

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