Planning commission says ‘yes’ to new freeway sign ordinance

The Claremont Planning Commission adopted a resolution Tuesday night recommending that city council approve an ordinance to allow code changes to freeway-oriented signs with electronic message displays.

Current code requirements, which were adopted in 1990, limit electronic message display signs in areas zoned “Commercial Freeway.” There is only one location in Claremont that meets the proposed requirements—the vacant property west of the existing auto dealerships off Interstate 10.

The property along the 10 freeway is currently owned by Brandywine Homes. The Orange County-based real estate developer had shown interest last year in developing the Auto Center Drive property for residential use. However, the project came to an abrupt halt. According to city staff, Brandywine is currently negotiating with Premier Automotive of Claremont to purchase the property for a Dodge/Jeep/Chrysler dealership. Ostensibly, the potential new owners will want an electronic sign equal to its potential neighbors, Claremont Toyota.

Premier has applied for a conditional use permit to allow a car dealership in an existing building in south Claremont. A hearing for that request is set for Tuesday, July 21 at 7 p.m. in the council chamber.

To be zoned Commercial Freeway, the area must provide for a concentration of major commercial uses such as hotels, service stations, restaurants, auto sales and big box retail that are dependent on their exposure to large-volume freeway traffic.

According to Brian Desatnik, Claremont’s director of community development, parcels near the 210 freeway are not zoned Commercial Freeway, so there is no threat of electronic message displays in north Claremont.

“Even the Vons Center is [zoned] Limited Commercial. It’s a lower-intensity commercial,” Mr. Desatnik explained. “There are no Commercial Freeway district parcels off the 210.”

Calls to Brandywine Homes and Premier for confirmation of negotiation were not returned as of print deadline.

In 2011, Norms Restaurant erected its 99-foot-tall sign, 54 feet of which towers above the freeway grade. That same year, Super King installed its 80-foot sign.

“Businesses prefer the higher signs,” Mr. Desatnik said at the time. “We are trying to let people see them in time to exit.” 

Under the proposed amendments, the Architectural Commission may approve a freestanding freeway-oriented sign that is larger than what is otherwise permitted. Restrictions prohibiting signs in motion or those that expose images for less than four seconds or at intervals of less than one second would be removed. City staff believes the existing standard is overly restrictive, as technology has evolved over the past several years.

Code restrictions dictate that large development complex signs will stand no taller than 50 feet and must be compatible with the architectural design and details of the complex. In addition, the sign may only advertise the businesses conducted, services rendered or goods produced or sold within the complex that the sign is intended to serve. Public service information, like the time, date, temperature and weather, will continue to be permitted.

Despite several concerns from residents regarding potential CEQA violations, Mr. Desatnik assured the commission that the project is exempt from CEQA requirements as CEQA applies only to projects that have the potential for causing a significant effect on the environment. According to the city, the project in question was found to have none. Claremont residents Barbara and Ray Fowler disagreed.

In a July 6 letter drafted to the Planning Commission from attorney Amy Minteer on behalf of the couple, Ms. Minteer noted that several of the proposed revisions could potentially have aesthetic impacts or could adversely impact historic resources.

The couple urged the commission to either “revise the amendments to the sign ordinance to eliminate potentially impactful changes or prepare an initial study to analyze the potential impacts associated with the amendments.”

The Fowlers warned that only through a thorough analysis of these issues will the city be able to evaluate whether these amendments are in the long term best interest of Claremont.

When and if the new Dodge dealership lands in Claremont, the owners will be required to visit the architectural commission for sign approval. The planning commission’s recommendation for approval will be forwarded to city council for consideration on July 28.

—Angela Bailey


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