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Larger business signs?
City proposing to calculate sign size by cutout dimensions
A Courier graphic showing how proposed changes to the city Zoning Ordinance could allow for larger signs on business walls. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier graphic

Merchants and the public will get their say on Monday evening's Ceres City Council hearing about proposed revisions to the city sign ordinance that could result in larger signs for businesses.

City officials will be considering a change to the zoning ordinance section that affects how commercial signs are calculated on the wall of a business. The change is being proposed because of a recent battle that pitted the city with WSS (Warehouse Shoe Sales). WSS is planning to open a shoe shop on Hatch Road now that the city is willing to look at its sign ordinance in a different light.

The changes would allow a merchant to propose signs on buildings by calculating their "cutout" area rather than the entire height by width measurement of a sign field. That could result in businesses being able to place larger signs on their buildings.

WSS of Los Angeles threatened that it would abandon plans to open a store on Hatch Road unless it was granted permission to have a building signage package that measured nearly triple the size allowed by the existing city sign ordinance. WSS insisted that the larger signage is needed to help break into the Central California market, which is not familiar with the store chain. Logos of brand-name shoe are included in their signage.

The company was turned down for a variance by the Planning Commission but appealed the decision to the City Council which first considered it on Aug. 11. The council did not wish to set a precedent by allowing WSS special consideration. However, Mayor Chris Vierra suggested possibly measuring the size of individual letters and logos to see how much square footage is actually occupied by signage on the storefront. The new way would scrap the "height by width" measurement of the sign field and look at each individual letter or logo.

Based on the city's formula of one square foot of sign area for every linear foot of building frontage, WSS is limited to 100 square feet. When the cutout of each shape was analyzed, the company still had 50 square feet too much signage for the front of the building. What was throwing it over, said Tom Westbrook, director of Community Development, was the company's red and grey WSS logo. To bend the rules a bit, Westbrook said the city considered that WSS is adding a new major façade improvement and could treat the logo field as part of the new architectural feature. By counting only the WSS lettering itself - which comes to 36.7 square feet - and not counting the stuccoed red logo field, the company squeaked in with a total signage package of 94.3 square feet.

The Planning Commission voted 4-0 on Sept. 15 to recommend that the council approve the changes to the sign code and offer a new definition of sign area and give special consideration for signs being a part of architectural features for new facades which won't count against the total of signage.

"I think the beauty of that kind of direction ... is that WSS won't necessarily get anything that any other business in the city can have," said Westbrook. "And so if a new business comes to town or existing businesses say our signage is a little dated, we'd like to change it, then they would have the benefit of this new (method of) calculation. It makes it equitable for everyone in town."

WSS also dropped a request for the southern wall sign of 150 square feet, instead of the maximum of 50 square feet allowed for secondary frontage.

On Aug. 11, Robert Grosse, vice president of Design and Construction for WSS, stuck to his guns about the larger sign, saying 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.

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."

The Ceres City Council will meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 13 at the Ceres Community Center, 2701 Fourth Street.