The Coast News Group
Although they are currently not allowed, A-frame signs such as these are seen throughout downtown Del Mar. Council agreed to amend the rules governing such signs, as well as others, in an effort to be more business friendly. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
Although they are currently not allowed, A-frame signs such as these are seen throughout downtown Del Mar. Council agreed to amend the rules governing such signs, as well as others, in an effort to be more business friendly. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
Rancho Santa Fe

Del Mar to change sign rules

DEL MAR — In an effort to make Del Mar more business friendly — and at the request of the Business Support Advisory Committee — council members at the Sept. 2 meeting directed staff to modify five areas of the city’s sign regulations.

The size of allowable signs will be changed so they are more proportionate to the front of the building. Currently the size of the sign is based on the square footage of the floor area.

A business with 1,000 square feet or less can have a sign no bigger than 10 square feet. The largest allowable sign is 20 square feet, for businesses with more 3,000 square feet of floor area.

Some cities base their sign size on linear feet of frontage. In neighboring Solana Beach, for example, one square foot of signage is allowed for every linear foot of frontage.

According to the staff report, this method “would substantially benefit some businesses and penalize others, regardless of their size.”

“However, as the BSAC noted, some establishments that are wide along the street rather than deep are limited to very small signs which are not proportional to their façade,” the report states.

Planning Director Kathy Garcia said the city could also consider using another method known as context-sensitive signage design, which allows a combination of calculations that take into consideration the speed of traffic, length of street frontage, architecture and streetscape.

Council members opted against using that methodology because it appeared too complicated and would require too much staff time to research and implement.

Blade signs are currently allowed in the city but they count as part of the total sign area. The BSAC requested that this be changed.

“Blades signs are usually 4 to 6 square feet so it doesn’t leave much space for a wall sign,” Garcia said. The signs would likely be limited to no larger than 6 feet.

Blade signs are allowed at Del Mar Plaza because that area is governed by a specific plan. Councilman Al Corti said blade signs there are tasteful and seem to work.

“Maybe we can look at the criteria and see if we can utilize it for the rest of the city,” he said.

The business community also asked that A-frame, or sandwich board, signs be allowed with approval. Although the signs are currently seen around town to advertise specials or display menus, they are not permitted.

“They can enliven the streetscape with special activities or seasonal promotions or even provide directions,” Garcia said, adding that the new code cannot dictate content because that is protected by free speech laws.

Council members agreed A-frame signs should be prohibited in the public right of way and taken in when the business is closed.

Enforcing the use of proper signage will also be more proactive and include nonconforming and poorly maintained signs.

Most enforcement now is complaint driven, Garcia said, and in the majority of cases, the infractions were for signs in the public right of way. Generally the problem sign is immediately removed.

According to the staff report, maintenance is also enforced on a complaint basis. City codes state that signs should be “kept reasonably free of dirt, grease, rust and corrosion (and) chipped, faded, peeled or cracked paint.”

Del Mar will consider, as other cities have, eliminating or reducing permit fees for a specified time to incentivize business owners to repair their signs or bring them into compliance.

“I think you can get a fresh look pretty quickly in town if we do that,” Corti said.

Finally, the city will look at streamlining the design review for allowable signs. Currently business owners must pay $340 and file an application with information on the proposed sign. Onsite noticing for 10 days is required. The process takes about three weeks unless there is an objection.

If that happens, it can take months to get a sign approved.

Paul Chasan, a BSAC member, called the city’s current sign regulations “antiquated.” He said something as simple as using the linear-foot methodology to determine sign size “would help us a lot.”

“We’re not asking for crazy signage,” he said. “We’re asking for signage that’s just proportionate to our building.

“This is low-hanging fruit,” he added. “This is something you guys can do and say, ‘Hey, listen we are business friendly.’ We can have attractive signs that bring interest to the Del Mar community. I think it will make the signs look better.”

In an email to the city, resident Bill Michalsky said he supports many of the recommendations. His concerns include A-frame signs encroaching into the public right of way and excessive lighting on blade signs.

“I think this is a great opportunity,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “I would try to be as quick as possible.”

Garcia said she will meet with the BSAC and return to council with formal changes for adoption at a future meeting, where the public can again weigh in on the new regulations.