ArtCenter Plan for “Digital Gallery” Faces Battle with Neighborhood Groups

Numerous residents protest planned 8000-square foot electronic display on new Arroyo Parkway/Raymond campus; Planning Commission makes no recommendation

Published : Thursday, November 15, 2018 | 5:51 AM

Shown above is a rendering of the proposed ArtCenter digital gallery at left; members of the Pasadena Planning Commission are shown during the November 14, 2018 meeting in Pasadena City Hall at right.

[Updated]     A plan by ArtCenter College of Design to mount an 8000-square-foot “digital gallery” on the southeastern-facing front of its newest South campus building at Arroyo Parkway and Glenarm Street met with stiff resistance from community groups Thursday evening.

Following an information-only Planning and Community Development Department presentation about a proposed Zoning Code Text Amendment which could allow outdoor electronic signs, representatives of three resident associations — Madison Heights, West Pasadena Residents Association and the Linda Vista/Annandale Neighborhood Association — spoke out against the proposed new gallery.

ArtCenter officials had previously presented their proposed master plan for the new campus to the City Council on July 16. Each of the individual design elements was met with approval except for the digital gallery proposal.

Councilmember Margaret McAustin said at the time, “It’s a beautiful plan, and this will be a tremendous addition to the City, and if anyone can design a digital gallery that would work in this city, ArtCenter can. But I can’t support it for now. Let’s take it off the table for now.”

Councilmember Gene Masuda also called the construction of the display “a slippery slope.”

The Council then noted that the sign would require a zoning change. Mayor Tornek said that there was no “mechanism” to allow for the display, subsequently asking the City’s Planning Dept. for a study on the impact and logistics of the outdoor display.

As Wednesday’s presentation from Planning noted, the display would require a text amendment to Chapter 17.48 of the City’s Zoning Code.

Deputy Planning Director Jennifer Paige told the Commission Wednesday that the proposed gallery display is “signage,” and subject to current zoning regulations. Paige also noted a distinction between “art” and commercial signage, noting that murals on commercial buildings may not depict the businesses in the buildings — a hair salon could not depict styling tools in a mural, for example, she said.

“But,” said Paige, “This is an unusual situation, since the college’s ‘business’ is art.”

An ArtCenter representative told the Committee that the display would not contain animation or video, only still images.

The Planning Department presentation noted in its study that other cities—Los Angeles, Glendale, and Boston, limit digital signage and require that signs occur only in “sign districts” in Los Angeles; “Advertising signage overlay zones” in Glendale, and in “theater/entertainment/convention center” districts in Boston.

The City of Pasadena Zoning Code also does not allow billboards.

Along with speakers representing the neighborhood associations, 24 Pasadena residents of nearby neighborhoods submitted letters protesting the construction of the display. No letters of support of the project were received by the commission, although Commissioner Steve Oliva at one point suggested tabling the discussion since other local businesses who may be seeking digital signage were not represented at the meeting.

“It is my belief that the sign would adversely affect public safety,” wrote resident Frances Morrison, “and could cause unwanted light pollution for residents, and is aesthetically inconsistent with our historic city.”

Resident Susan Baggott told the commission in her letter, “Please know I oppose any type of Las Vegas signage in Pasadena.”

The new design of the South Campus would also include two new buildings dedicated to student housing — one at 988 South Raymond Avenue on the 1111 South Arroyo Parkway parcel, just north of the “new” 1111 Building, extensive interior renovation, and a 30-foot high pedestrian bridge connecting the new student housing building and the existing 1111 Building over the Metro Gold Line, until the completion of the Main Quad.

The Commission did not make a formal recommendation to City Council regarding the display.

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