Ordinance 772 passes, but without language spelling the demise of 'non-conforming' signs as early as 2007LONG BEACH - At a May 5 Long Beach City Council meeting, the city's new zoning ordinance (Ordinance 772) was approved, but minus language which would have spelled the demise of "non-conforming" signs, such as interior-lit signs.

This now-omitted language would have set specific sunset dates for the use of interior-lit signs and other non-conforming signs, but was struck out at the last minute. The sunset date, for all zones except OTW (Old Town West district), was set for Jan. 1, 2009. OTW's sunset date was set for Jan. 1, 2007.

Much of the pressure to strike out such language came from local business owners, who spoke out at recent city council meetings and at public hearings held to take testimony about Ordinance 772, such as on April 3.

These business owners made it clear that several have spent upwards of $10,000 and as much as $25,000 on their interior lit signs.

In its final draft, according to Sayce, Ordinance 772 will allow for normal repairs and maintenance of interior lit signs, but only as long as this doesn't entail altering the face plate or metal frame. To make this a reality, Section 9.355, which would have prevented a business owner from maintaining or repairing an interior-lit sign, was eventually decided against by the city council.

At the same time, previous language in Section 9.4(2) was stricken, which allowed the changing of "the advertising copy or message" and other normal maintenance, unless a structural or electrical change is made. Under this section, what will continue to be allowed is painting, repainting or cleaning of a "lawfully erect" sign structure. But changing any wording or color scheme of an existing interior-lit sign's face plate is prohibited.

Making the sign issue more opaque is the fact that some previous language was stricken, such as the following from Section 9.21(1), which stated, "Non-conforming signs which were legally and permanently installed prior to adoption of this ordinance shall be allowed to continue in use so long as they are not relocated, are not structurally altered or made more non-conforming in any way." Sayce said this language was removed in an attempt to clarify which maintenance of non-conforming signs is allowed.

"If someone has an existing interior-lit sign, the city's point of view is that changes to the face or the structure of the frame are not allowed," said Sayce. "The only other option is to change the sign, but the sunset dates were not approved. After discussion the city council decided not to do that, and instructed the businessmen to form a committee."

According to Long Beach Mayor Dale Jacobson, this committee was given 90 days to form, discuss the sign issue, and then get back to the city council by the end of summer with any alternate proposals. According to Sayce, these proposals could be used to amend the city's zoning ordinance in the future, which it can do each year.

One concerned business owner is Rich Weir, owner of Sunset Taco Express in Long Beach. Weir is one of several business owners who are involved with this committee, and said the issue is not just important for Long Beach, but for the Peninsula as a whole.

"A lot of people are concerned about interior-lit signs and the city wanting to eventually do away with them," said Weir. "Interior-lit signs identify a business better and they can be read more easily, especially at night. They also look more professional."

But this is where the city differs with many local businesses. According to Long Beach Administrator Nabiel Shawa, the city would like to see the proliferation of more exterior-lit, painted signs, which he said are more in line with the ambience of a village, which the city is trying to foster in Long Beach.

Ordinance 772 will officially take effect on May 21.

Sayce said some of the most notable new language in Ordinance 772 pertains not to commercial signage, but to density in the S2 Residential/Multi-family zone. This language seeks to tighten up an clarify exactly what is allowed in S2, according to Sayce.

Although the issue of density in S2 zones in the city has come up in recent discussion of the proposed Robert Merrill condominium project, which has resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the city, Sayce contends that the advent of Ordinance 772 has been in the works for some time.

Sayce said the additional language in Ordinance 772 pertaining to S2 clarifies the relationship between the lot size and the square footage required for one, two, three and four family dwellings, and makes it easier for interpretation.

According to Sayce, the issue of the Merrill condos, which has centered around density in S2, as well as use in S2, will most likely be addressed in a revision of the city's Shoreline Master Program, which is expected to also take place this summer.

Other new language in Ordinance 772 pertains to the Bolstad beach approach. In Section 4.90.30, which is designated to S4 Shoreline Conservancy District zoning, there is new language which states that "view corridors shall be designated in those areas where the city desires to maintain open space and ocean beach views."

Specifically, in Section 4.90.315, pertaining to view corridors, the new language states that a building setback would be established on the Bolstad approach, consisting of 200 feet on the north and 200 feet on the south. This area would be within the S4 zone of the approach, where there is State Parks property. This language, according to Sayce, was designed to keep an open feel to the Bolstad beach approach.

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