Gil Moore is waiting for a sign to build his 4.5 acre shopping center in Sheldon—a freeway sign, that is.
Moore, a former oil company owner and major donor to several city council members' campaigns, says his plans for a 13,600 square-foot retail center on the corner of Sheldon Road and East Stockton Boulevard hinge on whether he can also construct a large sign half a mile away along Highway 99.
Moore is asking city officials to consider changing Elk Grove’s sign ordinance prohibiting off-site signs, much to the ire of residents and community activists who helped write the 2006 law.
“Lots of people in this community worked to craft that sign ordinance and spent many hours of their time on it, and now they want to just dump it and let someone come in and put in a huge, monument sign,” said Sheldon resident Linda Ford.
Ford pointed out that many residents fought against an electronic reader sign at the Elk Grove Auto Mall. “It’s ugly, it’s visual blight,” she said.
Ford added that she supported the project itself, just not the proposed sign.
Moore, who is investing $8 million into the project, said he needs known national retailers such as Arco and McDonald’s as anchor tenants to make his shopping center profitable—and those companies want freeway signage.
“There’s one parcel between me and the freeway, so I don’t have the right to put up a sign,” Moore said. “Because this is an undeveloped area, both Arco and McDonald’s are a little jittery about the volume so the only thing that makes it work is putting up a freeway sign.”
Moore said a sign along the freeway will draw travelers off the road, boosting transient business as much as 15 percent.
“If you’re on Laguna or Elk Grove boulevards, you just assume there are gas stations there,” Moore said. “But when you leave the main part of Elk Grove and go into the rural area, nobody would ever stop here. We would lose business and the city would lose income from sales tax dollars.”
The city’s existing sign ordinance does not allow for exemptions or variances, so city officials would have to change the entire policy to allow for Moore’s sign. Council members Wednesday night directed staff to investigate the issue and report back at a later date.
Moore wants to buy or lease a small parcel of land next to the freeway that is currently owned by the city of Elk Grove. Any deal would have to be approved by the City Council.
The sign issue spurred a flurry of emails, phone calls and text messages to councilmembers, some of whom were criticized for speaking out in support of Moore's project after taking campaign donations from him.
“I’m friends with a lot of people in Elk Grove,” Councilman Steve Detrick said at the council's Wednesday meeting. “If I have to sit here and recuse myself … I’d be recusing myself on every item that comes before us. I’m totally insulted by some people who have badgered Mr. Moore and my family in recent weeks.”
Moore or his company contributed $10,000 to Detrick’s campaign fund in 2011, as well as $5,000 to Councilmember Gary Davis's mayoral campaign and $1,000 each to Councilmembers Jim Cooper and Pat Hume.
“I will continue to support anybody that’s in a political position who has ethics and will do the right thing,” Moore said.
At Wednesday's meeting, Hume raised the possibility of constructing a sign that includes the city logo and identifies what services are available at the freeway exit. Hume suggested businesses could lease sign space, making it a potential revenue-generator for the city.
“I’d be interested in investigating it,” Hume said. “That’s as far as I can commit. I think he’s got a great idea for this project, and he needs the big tenant so he can afford to do those other things.”
But Connie Conley, Ford's co-organizer in the resident group Elk Grove Coalition Advocating Proper Planning, opposed the idea saying it would give certain businesses preferential treatment.
“City land should not be open for private advertisement,” Conley said after the meeting. “You’re allowing private businesses to use city property for advertising. You can’t do that.”
Moore said any change in the sign ordinance could be done with “common sense,” adding that he wants to build a high-quality, attractive sign.
Should City Council members change a citywide sign ordinance so that the shopping center in Sheldon can go forward? Tell us in the comments.