By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Tonight, the City Council will hear an appeal of the Planning Commission’s denial of Highway 101-oriented signs for the East Washington Place shopping center, which is to be anchored by a Target store.
The city sign ordinance prohibits signs or advertising structures designed to be viewed primarily from the freeway or ramps. But there are plenty of exceptions, including newer structures along the northern end of the city.
East Washington Place, at 34 acres and 378,000 square feet of retail space, will be the city’s largest shopping center. Construction is in its early stages now.
City planning staff acknowledge that the center, which runs along the western edge of Highway 101 at East Washington Street, is unique in that it has no direct frontage on East Washington — where customers will enter — but a lengthy back-side visibility from the highway.
In March, the developer, Regency Centers, sought a 60-foot landmark sign to guide potential customers to the center, which is also to include a TJ Maxx, a fresh produce store, a sporting goods store and several smaller shops. It also sought signs for businesses whose backsides face 101.
The Planning Commission approved only a 30-foot main sign, denied the freeway-facing signs and reduced the overall number and size of other markers Regency wanted.
In its appeal, Regency said “some of our anchor tenants are demanding rear-building signage. If they can’t get it, they won’t come to the project and there won’t be a project.”
While that may be hyperbole, Councilman Mike Healy wants to see the center succeed and said compromise may be part of that.
“There are a fair number of signs on buildings facing the freeway, and clearly the standards have changed in Petaluma over time,” he said.
Two nearby competing shopping centers, the Plaza north and south that include Kmart and Raley’s, have complained that they haven’t been allowed freeway-facing signs.
Until recently, much of the rear of those North McDowell Boulevard complexes has been obstructed by trees, which are being removed for the reconfiguration of the Highway 101 ramps at East Washington.
Healy said now may be an opportunity to allow other businesses to seek “tasteful” freeway-facing signs if they can improve the look of their highway frontage, often the style-challenged rear of buildings.
Tonight’ss discussion will take place without Councilman Gabe Kearney, who will be out of town, and Mayor David Glass, who cannot participate in the discussion because he owns a large amount of Target stock.
Councilwomen Teresa Barrett and Tiffany Renee have consistently opposed the project and modifications to approvals. Councilmen Chris Albertson and Mike Harris have supported Regency.
Kearney, the council liaison to the Planning Commission, said he felt the commission’s unanimous vote to limit Regency’s sign plan was reasonable.
“We thought we had a compromise,” he said.
A Regency spokesman didn’t return a message Friday seeking comment.
The council meets at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 11 English St.
Contact Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.