Council holds firm on Sprouts sign

An attempt by Sprouts Farmers Market to convince the City Council that large, internally lit signage should be approved for the La Cañada store it plans to open next year was denied Monday.

Deborah Leone, representing Noble Signs, the firm creating the Sprouts signage, told the council that a recent Planning Commission ruling that requires Sprouts to decrease the size of its signs and switch them from channel lighting (as seen at the Vons store on Foothill Boulevard) to reverse-channel lighting (like signs used by Chico’s, across Oakwood Avenue from Vons) was unfair and would be counterproductive for the market. Leone also objected to the Planning Commissions suggestion that four smaller signs be eliminated from the plans.

“There are countless stores on which Sprouts has used their channel letters, they are tried and true to bring in the customer,” Noble said. “Their signage is trademarked, and technically you cannot change that.”

Noble was especially adamant that the secondary signage was necessary to catch the eye of people behind the wheels of passing vehicles.

“[Sprouts is] not a walking store,” she said. “People are not just walking by. [Sprouts is] a driving store.”

While Sprouts might not be a walking store, its location in the former Sport Chalet Sportland building on Foothill at Beulah Drive is in the middle of the city’s efforts to encourage more pedestrian-friendly development, said Councilmember Donald Voss.

“Sprouts is not a strolling store, but ironically this is located in our Downtown Village area. [Walking is] exactly what we’re trying to foster there,” said Voss.

Councilmember Mike Davitt did raise an opposing viewpoint, saying he wanted to make sure Sprouts wasn’t being unfairly penalized.

“It’s nice to say it’s a real pedestrian-friendly intersection and all that, but it’s not,” said Davitt. “It’s a freeway, basically. We have to be careful that we create an environment in which Sprouts can succeed.”

Planning Commissioner Michael Cahill was on hand to exhort the council to hold fast to the Planning Commission’s ruling. He said he thought Sprouts would do fine under the commission’s conditions.

“This is about what the town is going to look like for many, many years, and we only have one chance to get this right,” Cahill said. “They’re saying it’s their trademark, they basically mean their branding … very often you see very subdued McDonald’s, but they maintain their brand and don’t lose business.”

Ultimately, said Voss, the council’s decision was its way of trying to move the project forward.

“We’ll wind up denying the appeal really as a technicality. We’re really remanding this to the Design Commission to move forward,” he said. “We think this is a very special city, and we think that’s why Sprouts want to be here. The wrong way to do it would be with signage that’s going to offend everybody.”

With the City Council’s denial, the project will now head to the Design Commission for final approval. Design Commissioner Gordon Hoopes said the commission would consider allowing secondary signs as long as the overall signage fit into the city’s aesthetic.

“I think there are some options the design commission can suggest to Sprouts that will be in better keeping in our community,” he said. “We’re not interested that Sprouts has a sign in another town that has been registered. Our town has a character to it that we want to keep.”

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