DEL MAR — In an effort to make Del Mar more business friendly, council members approved at the May 18 meeting changes to the rules that govern signs in the commercial district.
The request came last year from the Business Support Advisory Committee, which reviewed how cities such as Encinitas and Solana Beach regulate signage, as well as what has and hasn’t worked historically in Del Mar.
The amendments provide a new method for calculating sign size, allow and regulate blade and A-frame signs and clarify language in the existing code to make the process less confusing.
The current calculation method is based on the overall square footage of the business. Properties with 1,000 square feet or less are allowed a 10-square-foot sign. Businesses between 1,001 and 3,000 square feet can have a 15-square-foot sign. Those with more than 3,000 square feet get 20 square feet of signage.
The added method is based on linear feet of street frontage and is capped depending on the zone in which the business is located.
A 1-to-1 ratio would be used so for every linear foot of frontage a business would be allowed 1 square foot of signage.
A sign could be no bigger than 40 square feet everywhere except in the north and visitor commercial zones, where the maximum will be 60 square feet because traffic is moving faster in those two areas and there aren’t as many pedestrians.
For example, Jimmy O’s is smaller than 3,000 square feet and is currently allowed 15 square feet of signage. Under the amended code the restaurant would be allowed a 32-square-foot sign.
“As the Business Support Advisory Committee noted, this makes it much more in proportion to its presence along the street,” Planning Director Kathy Garcia said.
Business owners can choose which method to use as some properties don’t have street frontage.
The changes will also allow an additional 6 square feet of signage for blade signs, which hang perpendicular from a building higher than the pedestrian area.
Blade signs are currently allowed but they count as part of total allowable sign area. Small businesses likely wouldn’t use them because building signs are a priority, Garcia said.
Blade signs would not count toward the overall sign area and would be limited to one per establishment.
A-frame or chalkboard signs are currently not permitted, but advisory committee members said they can improve business if regulated property.
Under the new rules they can be no bigger than 36 inches wide and 42 inches tall and can be displayed only when the business is open. They must be placed on private property and not in the public right of way. They also can’t block access to parking.
The signs will be limited to changeable messages such as menus, sales and special events and cannot include lights, flags, balloons, handouts, animation or other attachments. They must also be anchored for stability.
KC Vafiadis, a business owner and Business Support Advisory Committee member, said the group was formed to give Del Mar businesses a voice at City Hall.
She said many owners don’t speak during meetings because if the topic is controversial they’re afraid of alienating customers.
“So it’s very difficult for the business people to stand up and speak,” she said, noting that signage came up during a committee conversation because owners noticed a lot of temporary signs that look cluttered and tacky.
“We realized that it needed to look better than it did,” Vafiadis said, adding that enforcement had been lacking since the recession.
But we realized that before you tell a business owner to eliminate a tacky sign you need to find a way to support their business, she added.
Vafiadis said the cost of signs is expensive so unless a new one will have a significant impact, many smaller businesses likely will not make changes.
But, she said, the business community is hoping the new rules will encourage people to replace signs that are not well maintained.
Del Mar Rendezvous’ Daniel Schreiber, also a committee member, reiterated the need to decrease some of the signs in the city.
He said the “clutter of excessive temporary signage” and poorly maintained signs actually defeat their purpose.
“They’re not really helping the businesses,” he said. “They’re just trash. And they’re just pulling away from the signs that really do help the businesses because at some point it’s like you get slammed by so many signs you’re not even paying attention anymore.
“Clusters of signs and temporary signs can be unattractive, especially if they are faded and hard to read,” Schreiber said, adding that city signs can also add to the clutter.
He said the process should be made easier and fees should be in line with what other cities are doing “so it doesn’t feel like there’s a premium for doing business in Del Mar.”
Not everyone supports the new rules.
“I am a bit concerned that this hasn’t been vetted in the community very well,” resident Bill Michalsky said. “Not that I’m not concerned about business people, because I am. But I don’t believe that many residents have a clue what’s going on here.
“I believe the business owners … should be allowed to show what their business is and what they’re doing but to what extent and what’s the invasion on the residents,” he added.
Councilman Dwight Worden said he understood those concerns. “But this has been rolling around for quite a while,” he added. “I’m very comfortable to go ahead with it.”
Councilman Terry Sinnott received support from his colleagues when he suggested a “sign honeymoon” during which fees to change signs would be reduced or waived.
Following the grace period, enforcement would begin in “a more vigorous and energetic way.”
“I think if it’s dribs and drabs it’s going to take forever,” he said.
Council members also agreed with a recommendation from Councilwoman Sherryl Parks to put the city on a “weight reduction plan” for its signs.
There is overkill because of aggressive traffic enforcement but we can have a reduction of government graffiti, City Manager Scott Huth said.