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Residents share concerns over sign proposal despite delays

City officials have indefinitely delayed discussion of a proposed 60-foot retail sign for the corner of Base Line Road and Towne Avenue.

The review was originally set to take place at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, October 15. A letter had been sent out to residents informing them of the date and time of the discussion. However, the item was conspicuously left off Tuesday’s commission agenda at the request of City Manager Tony Ramos, who called for the discussion to be postponed in order for city staff to conduct further analysis, according to Brian Desatnik, director of community development.

“It was really just a request for some additional research on the sign issue, the type of sign, the requirements of commercial users and various other things,” Mr. Desatnik said.

It is unknown when the review will take place. Instead, Claremont residents took it upon themselves to jump-start the public discussion. Ten residents took to the council chamber’s podium during Tuesday night’s public comment period to voice their disapproval of the city’s disregard of the longstanding sign ordinance, which states that freeway signs are not allowed to exceed a height of 45 feet above the freeway grade.

“Upholding values is important,” noted Janet Peddy, director of finance, planning and operations at The Webb Schools, located near where the sign would be placed. “A 60-foot sign will alter the character of our neighborhood, but its presence also thumbs its nose at the planning ideals that you—by charge and function—are meant to uphold.”

The proposed sign would support a potential small retail development at the southeast corner of Base Line Road and Towne Avenue, according to the city letter mailed out to residents. The development is located within the city’s mixed-use zoning district, which allows “commercial uses to be located on the corner.”  

The zone does not, however, allow tall signs for those developments—nor should it, according to Claremont resident Lowell Walker. Mr. Walker said he was concerned about the additional traffic a large freeway sign might generate. In his nine years living in the neighborhood next to this busy intersection, Mr. Walker says he has seen problems with the busy freeway on-ramp and off-ramp escalate. He asserts the city should be doing less, not more at this already congested corner.  

“I just see this [sign] as adding to what is already a bit of a problem,” Mr. Walker said.

Many of those at Tuesday’s meeting spoke in favor of keeping the currently undeveloped southeast lot as residential only. The developer, City Ventures, had initially planned to build a residential and retail center at the site. But at a Planning Commission meeting in June of this year,  City Ventures instead contended that they would build only a 95-townhome residential complex with no retail. City Ventures steered away from a commercial or mixed-use development, citing constraints of the lot, the property’s small size and the limited access to the adjacent streets.

The request for 60-foot signage to promote retail shops was not made by City Ventures but by city staff who indicated it would like to amend the zone to allow for future retail to be included.

Robert Nuñez said he was a part of the group involved in designating the Towne Avenue lot as mixed-use. He noted that the group’s intention was not for the lot to be developed with “nationally-recognized tenants,” as the city’s letter states, but rather with a professional building, loft or storage space. If the desire for more sales tax is driving the city’s decision to push for retail development in this space, Mr. Nuñez advises city officials to support existing businesses by requesting Caltrans place signage that is typical on freeways indicating the presences of gas, food or lodging.

“They [City Ventures] have done… their due diligence, along with the community, to sincerely put forth a development that will fit,” Mr. Nuñez said. “I think it’s fairly abhorrent for the city council or the planning commission or anybody to throw another hoop for them to jump through and ask them to revamp what they’ve spent a lot of their time and energy into, as well as the community.”  

Commissioners took note of residents’ complaints, but in accordance with the Brown Act could not comment on their concerns because city staff had pulled the issue from the agenda.

Residents may add their comments on the proposed freeway sign by sending them to PO Box 880, Claremont, CA 91711. For information, contact Associate Planner Luke Seibert at 399-5483.

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