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Sign law tweaked to accomodate WSS project
WSS front
City officials found a way to allow WSS to have the signage package they want be calculating the area of each letter rather than the height by width. The city will also consider the red field of the WSS logo to be part of the architectural design and not a sign. - photo by Courtesy of the city of Ceres

WSS is planning to set up a shoe shop on Hatch Road now that the city is willing to look at its sign ordinance in a different light.

WSS (Warehouse Shoe Sales) of Los Angeles threatened that it would abandon plans to lease space in Ceres for a new retail shop unless it was granted permission to have building signage that measures nearly triple the size allowed by the city sign ordinance. WSS said 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 the signage.

The company was turned down 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.

Westbrook recommended the council deny the variance but direct the Planning Commission to consider changing the sign code and definition of sign area and add a definition giving special consideration of signs being a part of architectural features for new facades that don't count against the total of signage. There are no guarantees that the commission will go for it.

"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.

Earlier this month 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 commission and council were in agreement that WSS did not deserve a variance because findings could not be made, including:

• There are exceptional or extraordinary circumstances or conditions applicable to the property involved or to the intended use of the property which do not apply generally to other property in the same vicinity and zone.

• Such variance is necessary for the preservation and enjoyment of a substantial property right of the applicant, which right is possessed by other property owners under like conditions in the same vicinity and zone, and the adjustment thereby authorized shall not constitute a granting of special privilege inconsistent with the limitations upon other properties in the same vicinity and zone.

• The granting of the variance will not be materially detrimental to the public health, safety, convenience and welfare or injurious to property and improvement in the same vicinity and zone in which the property is located.
Michaels said the only two findings that could be made, in his opinion, were the last two. He also warned that granting the request could set a precedent.