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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Planning Commission Faces Local Blowback to Shopping Center’s Signage Demand

• Name Game and Public Lighting Traditions of Malibu West Came into Play as Neighbors Flex Their Political Muscles

BY BILL KOENEKER

It took hours for public debate and commission deliberations at this week’s Malibu Planning Commission meeting on an application for a master sign program and landscape plan to allow the removal of several immature sycamore trees at Trancas Country Market shopping center, but it took minutes for the commissioners to unanimously nix the sign plan and say no to taking down the trees at the site.
Center neighbor Hans Laetz, who lives across the creek from the center, said the illuminated signs would be like lighting up “a ship in the dark.”
Former planning commissioner Jo Ruggles said the municipal General Plan calls for western Malibu to be a dark skies area. “Keep western Malibu rural,” she said. “Don’t light it up like Coney Island.”
Even so, many speakers praised the design of the expanded shopping center and said the site now under construction already has a sense of style.
Peter Burrell said,  “I’m looking forward to spending time there. You don’t need to tell us what is there. We will already know.”
Activist Patt Healy had assistants unfurl banners the size of the signs sought by the developers. “The site is surrounded by the mountains, Zuma Beach, Trancas Lagoon. There is a dark sky [area] from Oxnard to Busch Drive,” she said.
Remy O’Neil said. “The signs and lighting are incongruous with the buildings.” She said signs are not needed when it is a commercial center surrounded by no other commercial strips. “If the signs don’t fit, you cannot permit.”
Another critic said, “This is Malibu at the western edge of the United States. We don’t want to be lit up like a shopping center in Columbia, Missouri.” The reference is to the hometown of many of the Walton family members who live in the Midwestern town, including Walmart heiress Paige Laurie Dubbert, who along with her husband Bo, owns the shopping center.
Claire Bronowski, the attorney representing the couple, said she had been working on the project for the last 18 months. “This is a beautiful center. Doug Burdge, the architect, designed the signs,” she said.
The attorney said they wanted to measure the pulse of the commission and get their comments. “We need feedback from the commission. The staff has not been able to articulate standards,” she said.
The commissioners all agreed that a mock-up of the signs described would be helpful. The panelists deliberated for some time on different kinds of signs and what type they thought were adequate or not.
Chair Jeff Jennings said, “We heard tonight the signs are too large. We’ve heard, ‘We don’t need such signage or signs should be smaller.’ It seems more acceptable to come back with smaller signs.”
The commissioners also discussed three signs that were supposed to be taken down because of the city’s sign law.
Panelists also asked a lot of questions about tenant signs and anchor signs.
SYCAMORE TREES
Then the commissioners turned to the topic of why the sycamore trees needed to be cut down.
They were told the immature trees were  inadvertently in place where some parking spaces are planned. “Without the four spaces, they still have legal parking. Do leave the trees,” said Commissioner John Mazza.
“The trees stay where they are,” said Commissioner Rhoohi Stack. “I agree,” said Jennings.
FINAL SIGN ACTION
The proposed master sign program planned for the center and  rejected by the commission consists of the removal of all existing signs except the existing nonconforming roof sign, monument tenant sign and Starbucks sign.
Critics’ concerns had to do primarily with illuminated signs
Two new internally illuminated anchor tenant signs for Erewhon and Wells Fargo were planned. The design of the Erewhon sign has not been finalized,  Wells Fargo’s is included in the plans.
The two new internally illuminated anchor tenant signs required planning commission approval because the signs differ in color, material and lighting method from the other proposed tenant signs.
A third tenant sign for Wells Fargo, would consist of a non-illuminated secondary blade sign on the northeast corner of the building. According to the staff report, this sign requires planning commission approval because only one secondary sign is allowed. Bronowski said there would be two.
Thirty-two primary tenant signs that were proposed to be backlit with channel letters would have been either suspended from a bar or sited above a bar. Commissioners talked about that design for some time.
Six of the primary signs would have varied depending on the linear footage of the store footage.
Every primary sign has to comply with the maximum sign area of one square feet of sign area per linear foot of store frontage.
The Malibu West homeowners, in a letter to the commission, suggested the panelists either approve the signage plan originally sought by the previous owner, or deny the current application without prejudice, and invite the applicant to return to the planning commission with signage and a signage lighting plan that adheres more closely with the previous tenant signage project description, which is what the commission did.
The original proposal, which was never formally approved by the city, consisted of hand-lettered wooden plaques with any that were lit to have downcast, copper stem-mounted fixtures.
Many public speakers suggested variations of that original design.

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