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Shopping center developer wanted relief from ban on signs facing Highway 101

A split Petaluma City Council late Monday asked city staff to return with a revised sign ordinance that would allow "tasteful" freeway-oriented signs.

The council took up the issue after developer Regency Centers sought an exception to an existing ordinance that prohibits freeway-facing signs.

East Washington Place, at 34acres and 378,000 square feet of retail space, will be the city's largest shopping center once it's built. Construction is in its early stages now along East Washington and Highway 101.

Target groundbreaking

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In a 3-2 vote, the council approved the developer's request to move a 30-foot sign to the middle of the project, on Kenilworth Drive in the middle of the center. Regency appealed a Planning Commission requirement to move the sign to the southern end of the center.

Regency also appealed the commission's denial of freeway-facing signs on the back sides of retailers planned for the center — Target, TJ Maxx, Sprouts grocery store and Dick's Sporting Goods, ULTA Cosmetics and others.

The city's existing 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 and in the auto mall.

Regency spokesman Ryan Nickelson told the council the signs would be lit with white light from behind, creating a soft, halo effect he promised would be attractive.

While Councilwomen Teresa Barrett and Tiffany Renee opposed the request, Councilman Mike Healy suggested the city and retailers could all win with rewrites to two portions of the sign ordinance. Councilmen Mike Harris and Chris Albertson agreed.

Mayor David Glass recused himself because he owns a large amount of Target stock and Councilman Gabe Kearney was absent.

Nickelson said he needed to provide "maximum identity" to tenants with freeway-oriented signs on the buildings' rear walls.


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