Del Mar makes changes to sign-size calculations

DEL MAR — One of the Planning Department’s most controversial issues is signage, interim Director Brian Mooney said. But when City Council was scheduled at the May 18 meeting to change the way sign size is calculated, no one came to speak. So without public input, council members unanimously approved the first reading of a zone code amendment aimed at giving business owners an incentive to improve existing signage.
“I really believe signs are an extremely important element, and I don’t see this current … ordinance really encouraging good signage,” Mooney said. The changes, which focus primarily on freestanding vertical slabs known as monument signs, were recommended as part of the ongoing downtown revitalization efforts. Monument signs are generally used to identify businesses in buildings that are set back from the street and less visible to passers-by.
Under the old code, sign size was calculated by combining the advertising area and any supporting materials such as posts or brackets. Nearly all monument signs in the city are nonconforming, meaning they comply with zoning regulations that were in place when they were installed, but not with existing laws.
Owners had no incentive to refurbish or replace existing monument signs because doing so would result in a smaller sign. Under the new code, which only calculates the sign size using the signage area, the maximum allowable height, width and depth are 8, 12 and 2 feet, respectively.
In many cases, multiple tenants are listed on one monument sign. As amended, the ordinance doesn’t limit the number of businesses allowed per sign, but it does require design review and a comprehensive layout plan.
Staff and the Design Review Board will be expected “to make a judgment in relationship to good design/bad design versus a formulaic approach, which I don’t think has worked,” Mooney said.
The new code does not change a business’s total allowable sign size, which is determined mainly by the square footage of the building. Council will formally adopt the amendments after a second reading of the ordinance within the next few weeks.

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