A sluggish economy necessitates stretching the city's typically stringent design guidelines for at least one local business, a narrow majority of the Lake Forest City Council has decided.
At its Tuesday evening meeting, the council approved an appeal by the owners of restaurant to install outdoor barbecues and Americana-themed murals on the El Toro Road establishment.
Mayor Kathryn McCullough sided with the two council members—Mayor Pro Tem Scott Voigts and Councilwoman Marcia Rudolph—who each filed a formal appeal of a Planning Commission decision barring the restaurant's requested modifications.
The trio voted to give the go-ahead to both the outdoor grills and wall murals, which the owners have said are integral elements of the .
“I think that the city should be more accommodating to our businesses in these trying times," Voigts said.
In late 2011, commissioners ruled that the murals violate the city's design standards and that the barbecues could pose a hazard to passersby.
The council's decision grants the nearly 50 percent more signage space than typically allowed under the city's sign ordinance. It also gives Sizzler the right to cook outdoors on a permanent basis—something that no other commercial establishment in the city has been granted to the right to do as of yet, according to city officials.
Voigts said that Americana-themed murals—one of an American flag; another with a flag, pair of cowboy boots and Stetson–are appropriate for the area because of the city's ranching history.
Rudolph also disagreed with the commission's findings that the murals, each a 69-square-foot vinyl graphic, are inconsistent with the building and surrounding Craftsman-style establishments.
The murals are "definitely compatible" with the aesthetic character of the Arbor shopping center, she said.
Rudolph also asked her colleagues to remember their late colleague Richard Dixon, who she said often reminded them that design standards are "guidelines," rather than "mandates."
Council members Peter Herzog and Mark Tettemer voted against the appeals, warning that stretching the city's design standards for one business opens the door for a flood of similar requests.
“I think one of the things that we have always stood for … is treating each business the same,” Herzog said. “There have been other businesses that have come through that have wanted more signage and have been rejected.”
Tettemer said that if businesses need more signage to stay afloat in a bad economy, the city should alter its sign ordinance altogether and offer all establishments the option of additional sign space.
“It’s not just about this business; it’s about all businesses and treating them equally,” Herzog said.
McCullough said that she was undecided on the issue going into the meeting, though she had discussed it beforehand with Rudolph. The restaurant's recent decision to ensconce its barbecues inside a 6-foot high enclosure with a locking gate changed her mind about the safety issues that had been concerning her, she said before voting on the grills.
Sizzler owners Gary and Sally Myers and their grown son, Bryce, each spoke Tuesday night before the council, as did two Lake Forest residents, all in favor of the restaurant's requests.
Other cities in which the Myers have turned other Sizzlers they manage into "New Generation" restaurants, as they have with the Lake Forest location, have allowed both murals and barbecues, they said.
“It is a complete package and what is important for each one of you to understand is that [the "New Generation" Sizzler] is the new standard for the Sizzler brand," Sally Myers said. Sizzlers nationwide are looking to the Orange County site as a "prototype" for their next renovation, she said.
With the recent relocation of the Sizzler USA headquarters from Culver City to Mission Viejo, it is essential to have all elements of the revamp in place at the Lake Forest restaurant so visitors can witness a revitalized Sizzler in action, she said.