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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.

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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