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Council OKs Law Allowing More Sign Creativity : Business: The new regulations mean the return of neon and other design techniques that were formerly outlawed.


GLENDALE — After a summer of debate, the Glendale City Council Tuesday adopted regulations on business signs allowing greater flexibility and creativity in design and materials--such as neon, outlawed 20 years ago because the council found them unattractive.

The delays in adoption were caused by disagreement among council members on ways to streamline the approval process while still keeping the rules equitable for all applicants.

In the end, the council approved a procedure almost identical to the way things have been done all along--with key decisions left up to the city Planning Department. Disagreements will be referred to the Board of Zoning Appeals and, if necessary, to the City Council.

"We have taken a major step forward," Mayor Larry Zarian said following unanimous adoption of the ordinance, which will go into effect in 30 days.

The new rules will permit types of signs and techniques--such as neon, track lighting, transparent or translucent materials and direct lighting--that had been banned by the old ordinance, adopted in 1973 to improve the city's appearance.

In recent years, the city has adopted design guidelines that set a standard for the types and sizes of signs that are considered to be appealing while allowing more creativity, Planning Director John McKenna said in a recent interview. Signs projecting out over sidewalks, for instance, which had to be removed under the old law, may be reintroduced in some circumstances under the new rules.

Some merchants have said it is ironic that the city is now willing to consider designs that it once banished as ugly. Bob New, a 35-year veteran in the car sales, leasing and insurance business who fought--and lost--a 15-year court battle against the old rules, called the new regulations a victory.

New said his fight, which he carried all the way to the state Supreme Court, "was well worth the investment. We made our point." He had argued unsuccessfully that the city's stringent rules violated constitutional freedom of speech.

However, McKenna and others said the lack of design standards more than two decades ago resulted in a conglomeration of signs that presented an overall image of blight. "Signs were getting really ratty," McKenna recalled. He said new guidelines will "allow more creative lighting" while avoiding the appearance of clutter.

Council members all along had endorsed the new rules, but were caught up in a debate over how the approval process should be applied, both inside and outside the city's two redevelopment zones. A business seeking to erect a sign in a redevelopment zone must obtain approval through the Redevelopment Department and also the Planning Department.

City officials had proposed to streamline the process by granting separate authority to redevelopment officials for signs within its jurisdiction while all others would go through the Planning Department. Appeals could be made directly to the Redevelopment Agency or City Council--composed of the same five members.

Several council members said they were concerned that the separate processes could result in the development of double standards by the redevelopment and planning staffs. They also objected to eliminating the role of the volunteer zoning appeals board.

In the ordinance adopted Tuesday, the council retained the old procedure, which means all signs, even those in a redevelopment area, must be approved by the planning staff. Disagreements will be heard by the zoning board and, if necessary, by the council.

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