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.”
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