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Sign language

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Town officials have fought sign blight in Truckee to maintain mountain character, but many local business owners say they feel the rules are complex, impractical, and not always fair.

Truckee’s sign ordinance exceeds 6,000 words in its mission to “preserve the character” of the town. An ordinance that town hall is finding is not always agreed with, nor appreciated. Businesses owners and the local government are frequently battling over what is reasonable, and if the rules are consistent.

“We got a beautiful new sign that is not worth anything in the winter,” said Timbo Brown, head chef and part owner of Zano’s Restaurant. “The town has businesses jumping through hoops on code issues; the sign thing doesn’t help.”



A number of business owners find the monument style of sign, in the town ordinance, while attractive, is not practical.

“The town makes you spend an extra $5,000 to trim your sign with wood or rock, but it cannot even be seen during the winter months due to snow. Lots of small businesses cannot afford the investment on top of bringing things up to code,” Brown said.



In building Zano’s nothing was grandfathered from the old Pizza Junction that had been at the location. Everything was renovated to meet the new town codes, including the signage, Brown said.

Despite the minor sign frustrations, he said business at Zano’s is good.

Margo Groth, a Realtor with Boice Countryside, and resident of Truckee for more than 10 years said it’s not necessarily signage that helps or harms business.

“The [people in] town embrace good food, and good service. If a business provides that, customers will come,” she said.

Groth said it’s all about striking a balance when it comes to the sign issue.

“I am concerned about aesthetics and want signs appropriate, and in proportion. I look at businesses all the time that come and go, but would guess rent is a bigger factor than signage,” she said. “If a business has something of value, this town will embrace it.”

Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook said the language in the ordinance is there to help maintain Truckee’s mountain character, while allowing identification of businesses.

“There are many methods for advertising. We just don’t want billboards in town for instance,” Lashbrook.

Asked about businesses that would like more freeway traffic exiting into their parts of town, Lashbrook said “A 60-foot pole sign would dramatically change the character of our community.”

In developing the town general plan there was strong public sentiment to limit the areas in Truckee with freeway-oriented usage, Lashbrook said. The town wants to limit businesses like gas stations and fast food to certain areas to ensure Truckee not become similar to other towns along Interstate 80, said Lashbrook.

“The town does not restrict franchises,” he said. “Nothing is wrong with these businesses as long as they meet our standards.”

The Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce and Town of Truckee are working on a more comprehensive signage program intended to help area businesses, Lashbrook said. It will include signage to help get people to the downtown given the 267 Bypass, as well as other chamber of commerce-related signage, he said.

Just outside the Truckee town limits, near the airport at Great Mountain Furniture, Larry Sargent is also challenged by sign requirements. He has run into similar problems while trying to meet Placer County’s requirements.

“While part of it is probably my fault; I feel like I am trying to hit a moving target. I am not sure there is a real rule,” Sargent said.

“Placer County has been reasonable. I just wish there was clearer criteria,” said Sargent, who is preparing to go back to the county to get another sign permit.

He said he has found what neighboring businesses have in signage, doesn’t necessarily apply to him.

“Right should be right for everyone, not depending which way your building is facing, or the wind is blowing,” he said.

Runway Cafe owner, Amy Burke, whose business is in Nevada County but outside of Truckee town limits, has had her own experiences with signage. At the same location for almost six years, she attributes her success to a lot of good customers who she find her by word of mouth.

“Business is currently really good,” Burke said. “I get a lot of business park customers, contractors from Lahontan, and during the summer walk-ins from the airport.”

She said she gave up three to four years ago trying to get a sign at Airport Road and Highway 267, in Placer County.

“Placer County didn’t want to approve anything, didn’t care, and categorically denied my requests. There was no way to get a permit for a temporary or permanent sign,” she said.

She looked for locations for her business in Truckee town limits in the past, but she didn’t think there were many sign options, she said.

“Everything I thought about doing wasn’t allowed ” nothing,” said Burke. “Some limitations I understand, not neon, not tacky, not flashing; but people still have to actually be able to see the sign.”

Industrial areas that have some mixed-commercial use, like the Pioneer Commerce Center, allow retail businesses that are expected to service the area but not attract freeway or other walk-in customers, said Lashbrook.

In Pioneer Commerce Center, tenants like Mary Linde, former owner of Perkins Organic Goodness see it differently.

“It destroyed us. We couldn’t get business and had to close. Truckee did nothing but take my money, and flush it down a black hole of anonymity,” she said.

Her business, a retail deli and wholesale bakery, closed after what she said was an expensive and frustrating 13-month effort.

Linde said she invested $300,000 in her business. She said believes the town sign policy ” which she said favors downtown businesses ” was a major contributor in her businesses’ failure.

“I cannot tell you how many people called and said they came out three to four times but couldn’t find us,” Linde said. “If you are not downtown, you cannot have meaningful signage and create a business, I spent $12,000 just to tell people where we were.”

Lashbrook, when asked about rules favoring the downtown area disagreed.

“It is far more restrictive downtown. The highest per square foot rent area, is the area with the highest restrictions,” he said.

It is important that businesses perform their due diligence, since there are restrictions in the sign ordinance, he said. Development projects must have a a master sign plan, and this becomes binding on tenants when they lease, said Lashbrook.


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