Residents Defend City Zoning Rules and Sign Design Regulations
City Council Bungles Appeal by Soliciting New Plans
As previously detailed on this site, owners of the DVC Shopping Center, Merlone Geier Partners, have spent three years planning a remodel of the old DVC Shopping Center (former site of old Safeway and K-Mart), to include new shops, restaurants a dog park and a CarMax used car lot. Last summer Merlone began signing tenant leases, conditioned on providing shopping center signage of a type expressly prohibited by Pleasant Hill’s sign design guidelines.
Why would a developer take such risk? It’s a mystery.
The Fix Was In – Until Residents Spoke Up
In October the Pleasant Hill Planning Commission approved a 67-foot-tall illuminated pylon sign located adjacent to homes around Diablo Valley College, despite the fact such signs are expressly forbidden by city zoning rules and sign design guidelines. The sign would be seen for miles and block some residents' views of Mt. Diablo.
Following the Planning Commission’s approval, no Councilmember called for review of the Commission’s approval. Instead, residents challenged the Commission’s decision to approve signage that grossly exceeds the City height and size standards for commercial signs.
Pleasant Hill Citizens for Responsible Growth (PHCRG), a good government group, appealed the Commission’s approval of the 67-foot sign located off of Chilpancingo Parkway, just south of the In ‘n’ Out Burger/Toys R Us/Target shopping center.
· Read PHCRG's appeal here.
· Download and view PHCRG’s PowerPoint appeal presentation here.
City Council Hears Appeal, Goes Off the Rails
The City held an appeal hearing on November 16th, at which the City Council invited the developer to present new plans at a follow-up hearing on Monday, December 14. This unusual move conflicts with municipal code requirements and raises concerns and questions.
Pleasant Hill Municipal Code Chapter 18.130 - APPEALS AND CALLS FOR REVIEW, states, in part:
At an appeal or review hearing the appellate body shall consider only the same application, plans, and related project materials that were the subject of the original decision. [Emphasis added]
At the November 16 hearing the City Council expressed concerns about the sign height, but it stopped short of making a decision to affirm, modify, or reverse the Commission’s decision. Instead, the Council invited the applicant to submit new plans for City Council review. This action conflicts with city code requirements that require the City Council to “consider only the same application, plans and related project materials” available to the Planning Commission when its decision was made. In addition, new plans require prior review by the City’s Planning and Architectural Review Commissions.
PHCRG President Michael Flake says the unusual move makes Council’s intentions unclear. He states:
The City Council agreed with PHCRG’s objections to the sign’s excessive height. Accordingly, it should have granted the appeal and invited the developer to submit new, compliant plans to the Commissions. This is the procedure required by the municipal code – they're the city’s own rules.
In effect, the City Council has bypassed its own review process and placed itself in the role of Commissioners. It is unclear what the City Council will do with the developer’s new plans or what role, if any, City Commissions will play.
Residents expect that any preferential treatment the City extends to Merlone is likely to prompt requests for like treatment from others, which could bring more non-compliant signs to Pleasant Hill.
It’s hard to know what to expect at the December 14th hearing because the City appears to be making it up as it goes along rather than playing by the rules.
Special City Council Meeting 12/14
The special meeting of the City Council on Monday, December 14, 2015 is scheduled to begin at 7:30pm. The meeting will be held in City Council Chambers located at 100 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill.
Strong attendance by Pleasant Hill residents is expected. Neighbors are circulating flyers to spread the word (http://bit.ly/1TUgeWe).
Those unable to attend may communicate their views to City officials sending an e-mail via the City website here.