Citing it desired parity with other shopping centers in the community, Wadsworth Queen Creek LLC asked members of the Queen Creek Planning and Zoning Commission to approve its request for taller and bigger signage for the new Heritage Square retail center.
During their Oct. 12 regular meeting, planning commissioners voted unanimously to grant some, but not all, of the developer’s requests.
Voting were Chairman Alex Matheson, Vice Chairman Gregory Arrington and commissioners Shaine Alleman, Josh Ehmke, Steve Sossaman, Chris Webb and Nichelle Williams.
Heritage Square is a commercial development under construction on a 14.5-acre site just north of the northeast corner of Ellsworth and Heritage Loop roads in downtown Queen Creek. It is zoned Planned Area Development/C-2 and is being developed by Wadsworth Queen Creek, which owns the property and is represented by senior project manager Craig Esslinger.
Speaking on behalf of Mr. Esslinger at the meeting was Paul Bleier of Tolleson-based Bleier Industries, which designs and manufactures signs.
Once completed, the development will consist of eight lots ranging in size from 43,560 square feet to 101,572 square feet, according to a staff report in the P&Z information packet.
The packet may be viewed on the town’s website at www.queencreek.org by clicking on the town’s Calendar drop-down, and then on the Oct. 12 calendar listing for the 7 p.m. P&Z regular meeting.
A Goodwill Industries store is anchoring the site. Other business operators who have expressed interest include Wendy’s and Wienerschnitzel fast-food restaurants and Emergency Care health care, according to a presentation by Queen Creek Planner II Keith Newman at the Oct. 12 meeting.
Wadsworth Queen Creek requested zoning ordinance modifications be granted to two types of signs.
The first is monument signs. They are tall, narrow, freestanding structures on which the names of participating businesses inside the commercial center are stacked.
The Queen Creek Zoning Ordinance, an update of which was approved in July 2015, limits the height of a freestanding monument in a C-2 zoning district to 8 feet in height and 48 square feet in area. Wadsworth asked that the limits be changed to one 19-foot-tall multi-tenant sign along Rittenhouse Road and one 15-foot-tall multi-tenant sign on both Ellsworth Road and Heritage Loop Road. It also requested that the maximum sign area be increased to 170 square feet along Rittenhouse Road and 125 square feet along both Ellsworth and Heritage Loop roads.
After reviewing the proposed monument signage designs, town staff recommended the commission approve the requested size modifications. According to the staff report, the applicant had incorporated the architectural features and colors that will be found on the site’s buildings, such as cultured stone and masonry, to produce a sophisticated look, according to the staff report.
The staff also reported the proposed locations of the signs along the three street frontages that provide ingress and egress — Rittenhouse, Ellsworth and Heritage Loop roads — will function well with the median breaks in the roadways and meet all town visibility triangle standards.
Commissioners were not as agreeable about the requests for modifications in the attached wall sign areas.
The zoning ordinance limits the attached wall sign area for each principal building in a C-2 zoning district to 250 square feet. Wadsworth requested the wall signage not be subject to any maximum aggregate sign area.
The zoning ordinance also limits the attached wall sign area per occupancy frontage in a C-2 zoning district to the following: 1.5 square feet per lineal foot of occupancy frontage on the building frontage; .5 square feet per lineal foot on a side wall and .5 square feet per lineal foot on a the rear wall.
Wadsworth requested the building frontage be increased to 1.5 square feet of building storefront and/or elevation. It also asked that tenants occupying less than 33 feet of storefront and/or building elevation be permitted a minimum of 50 square feet of sign area per elevation.
Town staff recommended these modifications be denied, saying in their report the commercial center plan should follow the signage requirements established in July 2015 after the 2.5-year process to update the zoning ordinance.
Staff in their report also said they did not support the wall signage modification as it might result in large buildings with a greater amount of frontage having too much signage, which could create a negative impact on the development and create excess sign clutter.
Mr. Bleier said the request was made to give the commercial center parity with two other area retail centers: Queen Creek Marketplace, on 30 acres on the southwest corner of Rittenhouse and Ellsworth roads, and Cornerstone at Queen Creek, on 68 acres on the northwest corner of Rittenhouse and Ocotillo roads. He told the commissioners the Queen Creek Town Council approved the same request for the attached wall sign area, reading from minutes from a March 2006 meeting.
After conferring with Mr. Esslinger, Mr. Bleier told the commissioners that potential clients could be swayed to locate in the other retail centers if Heritage Square could not provide adequate signage.
Commissioner Ehmke said he hesitated to approve what could be considered a “blank check” regarding a building’s attached sign area.
Commissioner Alleman asked Mr. Newman if there were any graphics to depict what the proposed signage standards might look like. He also asked if staff had discussed a “happy medium” between the town’s signage ordinance restricting attached wall signage to 250 square feet per wall and no limit whatsoever.
Mr. Newman said he had not seen any graphics. He said the staff had not considered an alternate attached wall signage limit.
Mr. Bleier said he had not prepared graphics for this request because he did not know yet the size of the buildings that would be occupied by future tenants.
Commissioner Sossaman said he was disappointed there was no visual depiction of the proposed modification.
“We got to see a visual of the 19-foot and 15-foot (monument) signs, but we had nothing to compare and contrast the (attached) wall signs,” he said. “It would have been nice to see a visual of what we’re reviewing.”
Vice Chairman Arrington was adamant about wanting to see a visual representation of the modification.
“When you have this drastic a deviation from the code, you need a visual,” he said. “There’s no way I’m going to approve this.”
In an effort to move the project forward, the commission voted to approve the staff recommendations to approve the monument sign modification and to allow tenants occupying less than 33 feet of storefront to have 50 square feet of sign area per elevation.
That same motion also approved the staff recommendations to deny the applicant’s requests for unlimited attached wall sign area for each principal building and for increases in the attached wall sign area allowed per occupancy frontage, holding the project to existing zoning regulations.
Vice Chairman Arrington told the applicant he could return later to request an amendment if necessary.
Afterward, Mr. Esslinger told the Queen Creek Independent he appreciated the commissioners working with him on the proposed standards and not delaying the process. He said he has heard from national companies that have expressed interest in the commercial center.
In other business during the commission’s study session, which began at 6 p.m. that day:
•Planning Administrator Brett Burningham reviewed Robert’s Rules of Order, which regulates how public meetings should be conducted;
•Planner II Sarah Mertins presented an update about the interactive, electronic General Plan being developed by the town. She said town staff expect the website will go live in November for the public to review over the course of the next year. She said she hoped it will go before the town council in November or December of 2017 and be ratified by voters in May 2018.
The Queen Creek Planning and Zoning Commission generally meets on the second Wednesday of each month in the town council chambers at 22350 S. Ellsworth Road. Study sessions, if scheduled, are held at 6 p.m. Regular meetings are held at 7 p.m.
The meetings are available on live stream and recorded at http://queencreek.org/town-hall/watch-town-council-meetings/test-town-hall. To view an agenda, visit the town’s website.