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Efforts underway to make sign ordinance easier to understand
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When a Turlock business wants to put up a sign, it's time to turn to the city’s sign ordinance.

The problem is, that document can be a challenge for laymen to understand.

“It's very difficult to figure out,” said Turlock Planning Manager Debbie Whitmore. “There's a lot of language in the sign ordinance; it's very lengthy.”

The Turlock Planning Commission is now working to simplify the ordinance, making approval criterion easier to understand.

The revised ordinance, which may be based on Turlock's existing master sign programs, might offer tables detailing what sort of signs are allowed in certain zones. For example, given a building's square footage and zoning, a specific size sign would be allowed in predefined areas.

The goal of the plan is to create a uniform, consistent set of standards, placing all businesses on an equal playing field. But planners must balance the benefits of a restrictive, easy-to-understand system with the flexibility to address specific challenges allowed under the current, convoluted sign ordinance.

The revision is still early in the planning stages, with an updated plan likely a year from completion.

Regardless of how simplified the final ordinance is, though, those businesses which skirt the existing sign ordinance by displaying unpermitted signs will likely remain unhappy with the new plan.

“No matter what you do, they're still going to be illegal,” Planning Commission Chairman Mike Brem said.


Housing Element approved

The Planning Commission on Thursday accepted the revised Housing Element, a document which describes how Turlock will meet housing needs through 2014.
The document was first approved in March 2010, but the state Department of Housing and Community Development did not approve the plan until December 2011. The delay was caused by the initial element's failure to address new state laws which require cities to create zoning areas where homeless shelters are allowed; in July, the Turlock City Council approved such a zone roughly southwest of downtown after completing a thorough study. 
The City of Turlock remained below budget in drafting the element, but spent far more staff time than anticipated due to the state's concerns.

The Housing Element will now go before the Turlock City Council for final approval.


The Turlock Planning Commission also:

Approved an updated sign program for Monte Vista Crossings, allowing the development to begin placing signs for the center's planned southern expansion. Thus far, only The Olive Garden restaurant has been confirmed for the Monte Vista Crossings South development.Received an update on the city's effort to create a new transitional zoning area between downtown Turlock and the surrounding zones. The city is in the process of applying for a state grant to fund the creation of that zone.Learned that Turlock is in the process of applying for grants to landscape the Golden State Boulevard median between Christoffersen Parkway and Tuolumne Road, in concordance with Turlock's Beautification Master Plan.
The plan was approved by the City Council in July 2011, after being put on hold in 2010 due to concerns regarding ongoing maintenance costs. The modified plan uses low-maintenance, water-conserving landscaping.

A second city grant application looks to fund development of a plan to upgrade existing landscaping.

Received a staff update on the Smart Valley Places Community Leadership Institute, a new effort which aims to give up to 20 Turlockers the tools to participate in local government planning decisions. The six month program, paid for through a grant, will offer instruction on planning principles, sustainable development, and the governmental decision process.
The program will kick off at a 2 p.m. meeting on Jan. 14 at Turlock's Westside Ministries.Learned that a public meeting for the in-development Morgan Ranch Master Plan – a new subdivision area located east of Turlock – will be held in the coming weeks. A date has yet to be set; check the Turlock Journal for further information.Authorized a new, 6-foot tall, internally illuminated monument sign for the Turlock Church of Christ, located at 801 N. Tully Rd.Learned that both the upcoming Blue Diamond plant and Bella Avena, a low-income housing development on W. Linwood Avenue, are aiming for LEED certification. The certification is only granted to extremely energy efficient developments.Conducted the oath of office for newly re-appointed Planning Commissioner Jeff Hillberg.


To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.