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David Codding has grand plans for the biggest little mall in Santa Rosa.

The owner of Montgomery Village Shopping Center is proposing to build a 27-foot-high, Reno-style archway over Sonoma Avenue as a memorial to his father, the late developer Hugh Codding.

"Everyone I have shown this to just loves it," Codding said of the design.

But city officials are less enamored. They don't want drivers gawking up at a sign when they're supposed to be looking out for pedestrians in the crosswalk below.

"My main concern is that we're not competing for drivers' attention while someone is crossing," said city Traffic Engineer Rob Sprinkle.

Codding presented the "Hugh B. Codding Memorial Crossing" to city staff members in January. The $200,000 structure would span 87-feet across Sonoma Avenue. The arch would be covered by a lighted trellis and would rest on two large stonework posts.

Drivers approaching from either side would see a sign reading "Welcome to Montgomery Village" in 2?-foot yellow letters with "Established 1950 Hugh B. Codding" in smaller letters below. Pedestrian flashers would hang underneath.

"I believe this project is something Santa Rosa would be proud of and a testament to one of its founders," Codding wrote in his application to the city. "Being his son, I believe Dad deserves a memorial."

The arch would feature plaques at the bases of the piers honoring Codding, a larger-than-life figure in the economy and politics of Sonoma County who died in 2010 at 92.

Codding built more than 2,500 homes, the Coddingtown and Montgomery Village malls and served on the City Council for eight years, including a stint as mayor. He was brash, headstrong and a revered figure in the city's postwar boom.

But the arch wouldn't serve solely as an advertisement for the mall or an homage to its founder. Codding says it would improve pedestrian safety by alerting motorists to people using the crosswalk.

Hundreds of shoppers and other pedestrians use the crosswalk daily. City buses make more than 150 stops there each day, and shoppers use it as a north-south corridor through the center. In summer, concerts can draw up to 600 people, Codding said.

Each side of the arch would have two flashing yellow lights and two green walk signals that would illuminate when triggered. A row of additional lights across the sign also would flash when someone is crossing. This would create a "visual safety barrier" that would help protect pedestrians, Codding wrote.

But the city already has a pedestrian warning system at the mid-block crosswalk, and officials are concerned about creating distractions for drivers.

The city operates two sets of flashing yellow signals and on poles on either side of the crosswalk, as well as one mounted high above the road that flashes an outline of a pedestrian. An audible warning also tells the visually impaired when the flashers have been activated.

Complicating the traffic pattern is that two driveways accessing the mall are on either end of the crosswalk.

Sprinkle said he's worried about people looking up and reading a sign when they should be paying attention to the flashers and pedestrians.

It's not his only concern.

If the city's signals are mounted on a private arch, as Codding proposes, that raises other issues about access and maintenance, Sprinkle said.

"It just gets a little more complicated if we don't have things separated," he said.

City planner Noah Housh wrote a letter to Codding explaining that the arch would need the approval of the city Design Review Board. But based largely on Sprinkle's comments, Housh informed Codding that his project "cannot be supported by staff and would be recommended for denial."

Housh suggested the "gateway sign" be "placed in a location that does not interfere with or detract from the importance of the existing pedestrian warning system."

Construction of the arch also could interfere with city bus operations, Housh noted. He also suggested Codding lower the height and reduce the square footage of the sign "to fit in the surrounding context of the project area and neighborhood."

Codding didn't take kindly to the letter. In an email to Housh's boss, Chuck Regalia, director of planning and development, Codding said he was "disappointed" by the letter.

He told Regalia he had met with City Manager Kathy Millison and Mayor Ernesto Olivares, both of whom praised the project.

Codding characterized Housh's attitude as one of "how can we kill this project" rather than how he can help it happen. He said he expected a response "more in keeping with the positive nature of my proposal."

"I would have thought that I deserved better," Codding added.

Housh said the city is proceeding with caution in part because the proposal is unique.

"There is nothing like this in the city," he said.

But there are plenty of examples of communities with prominent gateway signs.

One in downtown Willits declares the town the Heart of Mendocino County and Gateway to the Redwoods. Hayward is preparing to install one that integrates traffic signals much like Codding's proposal, he said. Santa Rosa had one over Mendocino Avenue at Fourth Street until mid-century.

Codding said he is willing to move his structure a few feet to accommodate the city's concerns about its flasher. But it's unclear if that will overcome the city's concerns about driver distraction.

"We're discussing some of the possibilities with him," Sprinkle said.

If they can't come up with a compromise, Codding said he's willing to take his case directly to the City Council.

"I think they would like it," Codding said.

You can reach Staff Writer

Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.

com.