City proposes signage changes as business owners balk
Claremont business owners gathered at City Hall Tuesday night as the Planning Commission considered proposed revisions to the municipal code regarding business signage and displays that could potentially affect businesses in the entire city.
Assistant Planner Luke Seibert presented the proposed modifications with a focus on four specific areas: outdoor displays, A-frame signs, temporary banners and window signs. The commission was being asked to review these changes which were initiated following concerns allegedly raised by business owners and residents, wishing to reduce clutter outside of retail storefronts, eliminate excessive signage on shop windows and limit the use of temporary banners.
Some of the proposed changes would be reverting back to standards that were in place before 2010 when they were revised to help sustain local businesses that were struggling in the tough economic climate. The addition of A-frames, which were strictly prohibited prior to 2009, has been a blessing to many businesses.
Mark Moreno, owner of Claremont Lock and Key located in the Village, has benefited from the use of his A-frame sign and although he agrees the city does need standards, he disagrees with the proposed guidelines requiring the signs to be framed with wood or metal, include a non-glossy dark background with handwritten script.
“I understand we need to make it look nice but the cookie cutter thing takes all the creativity away from the entrepreneurs,” he said. “I have an A-Frame sign and because I’m not a restaurant, I can only have it for 60 days and I have to make that count. A resident who has lived here for 18 years did know that a lock shop was there but saw it because of my A-Frame sign.”
With her restaurant located adjacent to the Metrolink train tracks, Pita Pit owner Chelsea Pearson faces a similar challenge and addressed her signage concerns with the commission.
“No one knows we’re there—ever—I have to use my A-frame sign,” explained Ms. Pearson. “There’s no parking in front of my business and nobody ever walks by unless they live below the railroad tracks. I don’t get foot traffic, it’s nonexistent so I need people to be able to drive by and go, ‘Oh Pita Pit! People usually know where all the restaurants are in Claremont. It’s just so unfortunate where we are. I need that sign. I absolutely need that sign. I will go out of business if I cannot have that sign out in front of my business.”
While the Village business owners have their struggles with foot traffic, entrepreneurs with stores located on busy city streets are faced with a different set of challenges.
Four years ago, Jennifer Nessler bought an existing Claremont business and says that many local residents didn’t know the store had been there for 18 years until she changed the signage and bought a banner. According to Ms. Nessler, city staff’s proposed revision of limiting temporary banners to new business and eliminating them for advertising purposes will directly affect the success of her business.
“We’re on Foothill Boulevard, I’m lucky if someone turns and looks for a second,” said Ms. Nessler. “I don’t want them to look for too long because they’re driving 40 miles an hour but it’s my store. I need to use whatever I can to get them to turn, look and want to come in. If we go back to 2009 codes, you’re going to hurt my business and I think that really needs to be investigated before we do this. I understand certain standards need to be adhered to but going back is not going to work, it’s just ridiculous.”
Much of the discussion in city council chambers revolved around the proposed revision of allowing up to 15 percent of the aggregate window to be covered by signage. While this percentage was increased to 25 percent in 2010, historically 15 percent had been the standard. The idea behind these stricter standards would be to limit excessive window signage while still allowing the businesses to make use of the storefront windows.
Espiaus, a popular Claremont restaurant, is known for their elaborate window painting, which owner David Molles admits occasionally exceeds the allotted 25 percent. “I think we’re being targeted,“ Mr. Molles told the COURIER. “Although, nobody has complained to us. We’ve done our windows this way for five or six years – the same fellow all these years – and all of our windows are done tastefully, people look forward to seeing them. I think it’s bogus, I don’t understand it.”
As the meeting went on, various business owners continued to address the council with their personal concerns regarding their business and by the end of the night, it was pretty clear that the proposed revisions were going to need further consideration before begin sent to city council for adoption.
Commissioner Robert Tener’s suggestion of reviewing signage requests based on a case-by-case basis seemed to offer a possible solution and was echoed by several commission members.
“Perhaps parties lock provisions by which individual businesses may be granted an exception based on location or orientation, maybe warrant exceptional cases and exceptional circumstances,” Mr. Tener said.
In the end, the Planning Commission was in agreement that the proposed modifications required further consideration and referred the items back to staff to be reworked and presented again in the fall.