WSS, a retail footwear and apparel store wanting to move into Ceres, asked for permission from the Ceres Planning Commission Monday evening to erect a sign larger than the city sign ordinance allows. The clincher was that the firm threatened to "re-evaluate" the Ceres store project if the request wasn't granted - and it wasn't.
The commission voted 5-0 against the variance for the nearly-triple-the-size-allowed sign at the store proposed for 1342 E. Hatch Road next to In Shape Health Club.
Michael Eschger, project manager for WSS (Warehouse Shoe Sales) of Los Angeles, went before the commission seeking the variance. "My company has a sign program that they believe is essential to their success," said Eschger. "I was told that if it doesn't go through that we're going to look for another location. The guy who owns the company is pretty adamant about getting his way with signage."
WSS has a chain of about 75 stores, mostly in Southern California.
He said the larger sign was intended to display logos of brand-name shoes being sold at the store.
The city sign ordinance limits 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 proposed 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 entire request combined for 210 square feet in size larger than code allows for wall signs.
City planning staff members argued that WSS was entitled to "a fair amount of signage" along Hatch Road and Herndon Road on two large pole signs that are shared by O'Reilly's Auto Parts, Dollar Tree and In Shape Health Club. These tall pole signs have sizes ranging from 35 - 108 square feet in area per side with "WSS" as being allotted 35 square feet per side. "However, in the opinion of staff, the sign on Hatch Road provides more than adequate exposure for vehicles moving both eastbound and westbound along Hatch Road and the sign on Herndon Road provides more than adequate exposure for vehicles moving both northbound and southbound along Herndon Road."
The company's proposed façade was not debated.
Robert Grosse, vice president of Design and Construction for WSS, sent a letter to the city claiming that a store elsewhere in California with similar signage restrictions had failed. "To avoid a similar fate for this store, we are proactively seeking this variance to allow for added signage for our brand partners, making it clear to our potential customers that WSS carries premium, internationally known brands as well as our exclusive brands," wrote Grosse.
He suggested the Ceres store may not happen without a variance when he wrote: "Speaking candidly, without a signage variance ... this store and the idea of any future potential stores in Ceres will have to be reevaluated. We are prepared to invest nearly $500,000 in upgrading the façade and interior of this building, greatly improving the building's current appearance now nearly 40 years old."
The problem, as City Planner James Michaels saw it, was that all four findings for a variance could not be made.
Those four findings that must to be made for a variance are:
• 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.
"Anytime that there's a reinvestment in a façade improvement, certainly the city is supportive of that," said city of Ceres Community Development Director Tom Westbrook, "but it just happens to be the circumstance that the signage is far more than what our code allows."
He offered that WSS could display logos on a window graphic as long as it didn't occupy more than a quarter of the window space.
All commissioners agreed that all four findings could not be made but complimented the attractiveness of the project and encouraged the company to set up shop in Ceres. They cited the recent rejection of a variance for a larger sign as proposed by dd's in November.
Commissioner Hugo Molina said he understood the company's desires but said "if we were to make an exception on this we pretty much are opening it up to the entire city to do the same thing."
Laurie Smith agreed but reminded Eschger that Hatch Road was a well-traveled location. "It would certainly be a welcome change to the area," said Smith. She said she would be disappointed if the company abandoned its plans because the larger sign was nixed.
Commissioner Bob Kachel said WSS proposes an attractive façade. He mentioned how McDonald's and Lowe's have adjusted designs to community standards.
Westbrook said the company can appeal the decision to the Ceres City Council.