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    Sign of the Times

    California gas station must choose between freeway advertising sign and adding c-store to the property.
     

    SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. -- A local Chevron gas station owner has decided to do something unheard of in this day of increased competition; he has decided to cover his sign at a high-visibility point along Interstate 5.

    At least for now. According to The Orange County Register, G&M wants to remodel the Chevron station off the El Camino Real exit off I-5. Plans call for the conversion of the former mechanics' bays into a convenience store. The San Clemente City Council approved the plan earlier this month. There is just one catch: G&M must remove its pole sign from I-5.

    An ordinance adopted in 1981 included a provision that mandated businesses remove freeway pole signs if they make changes in the use of the property. However, Mick Gray, the permit applicant for G&M's plans, told council members that removing the sign would cost the gas station business. In that case, the $750,000 renovation would not be feasible, or necessary, the newspaper reported.

    Now G&M is placing a bag over the sign, Gray said, to find out how much business it costs the station.

    "If it has no effect, we will go ahead and go forward and take down the sign and renovate the building," Gray said. "If it has a negative effect, we'll know for sure."

    According to the news report, G&M, which operates a 100-square-foot snack shop on site at 1729 S. El Camino Real, applied in 2009 for a permit to turn it into a 1,500-square-foot convenience store with a Spanish-motif storefront. The City Council approved it, and there was no mention of the sign, a city staff report said. G&M wasn't able to proceed with the project and permits expired in 2011.

    When reapplying this year, G&M was told that this was a change of use, converting service bays into a mini-mart, and the pole sign would have to come down. The Planning Commission approved the plans on condition that the sign comes down. G&M appealed; the City Council agreed with the Planning Commission, with members voting 4 to 1 for the sign's removal.

    Gray admitted that the bagged-sign test isn't quite the same as not having a sign there at all, according to the newspaper. Some motorists, noticing the bag, may assume that the station is closed and drive on past, rather than take the off-ramp to see if a gas station is there.

     

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