An opportunity to fill a vacant commercial space, produce taxable sales for the city and introduce 25 jobs to Ceres was nearly stomped out Monday - over the issue of a sign.
The Ceres City Council pledged to see if a compromise can be forged to satisfy WSS, or Warehouse Shoe Sales, which is demanding a larger sign than the city's sign ordinance allows. In July the Planning Commission denied the Los Angeles company a variance for a façade that bears signage totaling nearly three times the size that is allowed. The company decided to appeal the decision, placing it in front of the council on Monday, before making any commitment to lease out space at 1342 E. Hatch Road next to In Shape Health Club.
The Ceres sign ordinance limits business wall signs based on one square foot of sign area for every linear foot of building fronting for the entrance of the building and a half-square-foot of sign area for every linear foot of exterior (side) building frontage (south end in this case).
WSS proposes signs on both the north and south ends of the building, with the northern sign sized at 210 square feet, where 100 square feet is the maximum size allowed by code for primary frontage. They also asked for the southern wall sign to be 150 square feet, instead of the maximum of 50 square feet allowed for secondary frontage. The combined request for signs is 210 square feet larger than code allows.
Robert Grosse, vice president of Design and Construction for WSS, said Ceres is a "strategic city" to break into the Valley athletic footwear market, expanding northward from Bakersfield and Fresno. He said his company is finding brisk sales among Hispanics especially. But he said that because the WSS brand has "not fully matured in the market" he needs the larger sign complete with shoe brand logos.
"We see the need for size that you can actually see from afar, from Hatch Road," Grosse told the council.
He then made the following statement: "We have a lease that we've signed. It's contingent upon this hearing ... if it's approved, our lease is in effect, we move forward. If not, the lease is then withdrawn."
Vice Mayor Bret Durossette said the city spent a lot of time crafting the sign ordinance and didn't want to set a precedent of changing so "other people need to have that same opportunity."
Grosse said that his chain does have stores with smaller signs but said they are closing ones such as in Rialto.
"We've executed store opening without the full signage package. Our consumers do not know who we are. We have not done well. We're acutely aware what that means. As it relates to your city and signage, you're not the only city I'm meeting with to talk about these issues. I hear it from your city and others as well. But as a brand and as a company from where we are with our consumers now this is where we are at and we have to stick with that."
Councilmember Linda Ryno commented that a pole sign closer to Hatch Road should be adequate to draw in customers.
"As a shopper I would see that and then I would drive in and see WSS," said Ryno. "I would think you actually have more of an advantage than a lot of the little mom and pop shops in there because you have the advertising money that you could put your logo up in this big sign so I don't really see why you would need this in addition to the two big shopping center signs."
Ryno said she would not be able to read all the brand logos as she's driving down the street.
Councilman Mike Kline asked why WSS wouldn't be satisfied with posting window signs with the brands provided they don't cover more than a quarter of the window space. Grosse said the windows are in a recessed area and that they wouldn't be easily visible. Kline stated they he could support a variance for only a larger-than-permitted sign for the WSS logo but not the brand names/logo.
Len Shepherd, a Ceres resident, stated the case for leniency against signage standards.
"Think about the tax revenue," said Shepherd. "People come in and buy. I don't care how big their sign is as long as people come into the store, buy the products and the city gets their share of the tax revenue. It doesn't make any sense to me to limit people to little bitty things so that everybody looks the same."
However Ceres resident Don Cool had a different take, saying the sign ordinance has given Ceres a cleaner look.
"Nobody's saying this new business can't have a sign," said Cool. "All our ordinance is saying is that it needs to be a certain size and I don't think Ceres should be held any type of ransom or anything because of the aspect of 25 jobs. If they don't get it somebody else will. I'm a shopper and ultimatums really turn me off and even if they were here I don't know if I'd ever shop there."
With members not willing to grant an exemption to WSS, Mayor Chris Vierra pledged to meet with the company to see about a compromise to bring the signage in line with the city's limitations.