Solvang committee, residents weigh in on Merkantile lighting dispute

After two locals voiced their opposition to some proposed LED-illuminated signage in Solvang, city staff and the project applicant shed some light on the controversy at a recent public hearing.

The proposal in question was brought before Solvang’s Design Review Committee (DRC) at its Nov. 16 meeting where it was ultimately approved, but not without some tweaking.

click to enlarge Solvang committee, residents weigh in on Merkantile lighting dispute
Photo courtesy of T Graphics Architectural Sign Company
COTTAGE SIGNAGE: LED-illuminated signage at a primary care facility in Solvang caused controversy during the city’s latest Design Review Committee meeting.

Staff recommended that the committee approve a sign package that would allow new face-lit signage at Cottage Primary Care on Old Mission Drive, in the Merkantile shopping center.

Solvang resident Gabriel Rossetti criticized the size of one of the signs in the package as “kind of out of whack” and the project’s lighting approach during public comment.

“This is not a retail business that needs to attract walk-ins. This is not an urgent care. This is where people will come for set appointments,” Gabriel said. “My understanding is their hours are from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. So there’s no reason for a lit sign.”

Gabriel and Carrie Rossetti, who also spoke during public comment, both said they were concerned that Cottage Primary Care would keep the proposed signage lit overnight because New Frontiers Natural Marketplace, also located in the Merkantile center, has been allowed to do so.

“We’re just here to address the impact on the community with the additional light that’s being requested to be added on Old Mission Drive,” said Carrie, who said the proposed face-lit signage would “diminish our night sky unnecessarily” and shine into residential homes across the street from the Merkantile shopping center.

Carrie also pointed out that there’s already an illuminated directional sign on the corner of Old Mission Drive and Alamo Pintado Road that advertises the Merkantile’s various businesses by name.

Scott Allen, director of construction for the Cottage Primary Care project, asked to speak during public comment and immediately addressed the Rossettis’ complaints.

“To help with concerns, we will only keep the sign lit during business hours,” Allen said on the project applicant’s behalf. “We do not want to make it look like we’re open after hours.”

Committee Member Esther Jacobsen Bates motioned to approve the signage package with some revisions, including explicit verbiage on the business hours timeframe and one caveat that a particular sign facing Old Mission Drive not be illuminated. 

“The master plan does allow for illumination,” said Planning Manager Rafael Castillo, who directed the DRC’s attention to the Merkantile’s sign program—approved by Solvang’s Board of Architectural Review in 2017—included in the staff report.

Bates amended the motion to exclude the proposed illumination ban on a single sign before it was approved 4-0 (committee member Jennifer Dryden Hess was absent).

Castillo added before the end of the meeting that he was available afterward if any members of the public wanted to discuss code compliance issues in relation to face-lit signage at businesses in the Merkantile center.

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