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Sign crackdown gets property owner sued

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Shopping center ordered to limit the amount of tenants’ advertisements

SAN MATEO — The owner of a shopping center near downtown faces lawsuits from at least one retail tenant after a city decision he says will force him to remove key signs from the center.

The San Mateo City Council voted 4-0 Monday to uphold a July 11 Planning Commission decision ordering Dion Heffran to reduce the number of signs at his Gateway Crossings shopping center. Heffran said he appealed the Planning Commission’s vote because it would mean removing a multi-tenant “monument” sign — the primary way motorists can see which shops are in the center as they drive by.

“Our signage will be reduced by 70 percent,” according to Heffran. Four shops — including Shay Nicole Donuts, El Noraya Tacqueria, Pizza Hut and a laundromat, will be nearly invisible from East Third Avenue without the monument sign, he said.

Now, lawyers representing the 7-Eleven in his shopping center are suing him over the reduction in signage, according to Heffran. Amy Abdo, the attorney representing 7-Eleven in the suit, did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

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The current sign ordinance restricts Gateway Crossings to 200 square feet of total signage, and was triggered when Heffran applied for permits to renovate the facades of his retail buildings, according to City Councilmember Carole Groom. Heffran argued that city codes would allow his monument sign to remain if it’s not part of the renovation proposal, but the City Council disagreed.

“It was a question of following the guidelines, and he didn’t do any of that,” Groom said. “He chose to renovate the building without following the decisions that were made.”

Meanwhile, the San Mateo Area Chamber of Commerce is wrapping up an analysis of San Mateo’s sign ordinance, which was last updated in 2000, according to chamber CEO Linda Asbury. Although Asbury did not cite any specific problems with the existing ordinance, she said changes that were enacted to prevent freeway billboards are now creating issues for other businesses.

When the chamber’s study is complete, Asbury anticipates urging the city to be more flexible.

“There’s a lot of room for compromise and discussion,” Groom said. “Our goal is to have the best projects economically and architecturally.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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