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Sizzler BBQs, Flag Murals Approved

The Lake Forest City Council narrowly overturns a prior decision denying the restaurant outdoor murals and grills.

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.

Mike Brenhaug April 18, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Congratulations! It's the right decision.
Maryann Edwards April 18, 2012 at 04:26 PM
A great decision supporting economic development and responsible business owners with a long history of exceptional service to their customers and to the community. Maryann Edwards, Temecula City Council Member
taxfighter April 18, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I am glad the council has a new majority that is pro-business. I think it is curious that councilmen Herzog and Tettemer hide their anti-business attitude behind “fairness” and the zoning code. They are right to hide behind the zoning code. The code is very oppressive and anti-business. It requires businesses to get approval for little things (like changing your paint colors from one shade to another shade of the same color). No wonder businesses are leaving Lake Forest. Bravo to Councilmembers Voigts and Rudolph for appealing the Planning Commission’s denial. Include Mayor McCullough in that as well for her pro-business vote. I think it is time for the zoning code to be updated to allow flexibility and remove the red tape and onerous processes that it requires. Maybe it is time to get rid of big government Herzog and Tettemer as well?
Brent Deter April 18, 2012 at 09:57 PM
It really is the right decision. Let's hope that when the murals fade and look terrible the city has some ability correct that.
Informed Citizen April 19, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Absolutely the wrong decision. The entire redevelopment project is evidence of how pro-business the City of Lake Forest is, and the success of the project (and its attractive and cohesive look) can be greatly attributed to the zoning code. To say it is oppressive and anti-business is not only wrong, but disproved by the incredible success of the whole redevelopment of that area. It was a mess before, and now El Toro Road finally looks like a nice part of a wonderful community. Business is booming down there with restaurants like Bru coming in, and sustained success of others like Lucille's. The Planning Commission was upholding the standards that have paved the way for the success of the area. I agree that the zoning code could be made more flexible, but as it stands it needs to be applied equally to ALL businesses. By creating exemptions Voigts, Rudolph and McCullough are actually acting in an ANTI-business manner by not treating all the businesses of Lake Forest in the same way and holding them to the standards that have been so successful in the past. The success of the redevelopment project is proof enough, and Sizzler is going to serve as a detriment to the center now as a big, smokey, smelly, eyesore.
Informed Citizen April 19, 2012 at 09:38 PM
http://lakeforest-ca.patch.com/articles/shop-and-dine-program-earns-award Ya, clearly the City of Lake Forest is winning state-wide recognition for its business conducive environment which I am sure resulted from an "oppresive and anti-business" zoning code. Anyone who claims that Lake Forest is unfriendly towards businesses does not have a single clue what they are talking about (you).
Mike Brenhaug April 19, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Seriously? You truly believe that Sizzler will be a big smokey, smelly, eyesore? You obviously are disgruntle about the decision because everyone knows the knew Sizzler is NOT an eyesore. The City of Lake Forest has done beautiful job in Lake Forest. You should be happy that the owners of Sizzler chose to invest millions of dollars to revamp the old Sizzler, bring money into the community and create new jobs. Without new revenue and new business coming into the community the City of Lake Forest would not be able to continue to do the great job they have done. My hat is off to the city, the business community and the City Council for supporting the business community. Keep up the great work!
Informed Citizen April 20, 2012 at 12:28 AM
I did not think that the Sizzler was an eyesore BEFORE, when the original building designs were actually adhered to. I think this decision is going to make the building completely incongruous with the rest of the center, and the business that HAVE worked with the city and invested in our community. The City (especially the new El Toro) has a very nice look to it and not only have I never hear anyone complained about either the look, or the aesthetic regulations, I think by allowing these UNNECESSARY exceptions, it would only serve to allow the centers to revert back to the mismatched and haphazard look we had before. If Sizzler actually cared about supporting the City, they should integrate into the look and feel of our community instead of polluting our nice new centers with smoke, smells, and tacky vinyl signs.
MFriedrich April 20, 2012 at 03:49 PM
I am not in agreement with the decision regarding the murals. It's interesting that a company can used their national branding initiative as justification to override aesthetic regulations in local communities. Everyone's applauding this now because of the American flag mural and rah rah patriotism, but they don't get it. The cheering will stop when another business comes along with their own whacked out designs, cites "corporate branding guidelines" as an excuse and railroads it through our backbone-absent city council member. The other reason I'm disappointed with the decision is that the tri-tip grilling outside is going to create considerable smoke and odor that is not needed in this tight parking area and close to El Toro Rd and it's high traffic. I hope there's no traffic accidents as a result of the smoke and visual distraction, etc. We'll see. The decision has been made though, so we all have to live with it, no matter how unfortunate some may consider it.
Lake Forest Citizen Paying Attention April 20, 2012 at 05:39 PM
The prior council majority and the Planning Commission that they stacked have been anti-business for years. They talk a good game, but their actions have not been in line with their words. Sure, Shop & Dine is a great and the annual business surveys that Herzog likes to flash around as proof of being business friendly look good, but the Council and the PC have used the codes and the redevelopment "guidelines" to micro-manage businesses at a ludicrous level. They try to sell the public on how "accommodating" they have been with Sizzler because of the changes they did approve, but as stated above most of those approvals should have never been needed. Moving from multi-colored awnings to solid red and moving from one shade of beige/tan to another are not decisions that the planning commission has any place being involved in. It is crazy that Sizzler could have completely surrounded their building with flag poles creating a massive eyesore and visual distraction to El Toro drivers without having to seek permission but they had to resort to an appeal to get a 4 panel mural of the American flag attached to the wall of their building. The arguments regarding smoke and visual distractions for drivers are laughable. Cooking 3-5 steaks on a BBQ wont generate much smoke and the enclosure & landscaping will channel the smoke up and blend the visual into the side of the building. The BBQ is 3' above the sidewalk & offset by 7' of landscaping & smoke rises. Stop the anti-biz lies!
taxfighter April 20, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Interesting that the Shop and Dine program that Informed Citizen refers to is an award for the innovative marketing program. It has nothing to do with the redevelopment of El Toro. In fact you could argue that the businesses have been successful in spite of the city (not because of the city)
Greg April 20, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Unfortunately, the opponents on here are missing the point. There was no exemption or overriding of any aesthetic regulations. The City Council simply overrode the Planning Commission and determined that the proposed mural and BBQ area were not in violation of the City's guidelines. The fact is, the City Council is elected to be the final arbiter of what meets the design requirements for proposed projects in Lake Forest, not the Planning Commission. I understand if you don't support the project, but I can't allow the misstatements from people on here about the Council's reasons for approving the modified project.
Informed Citizen April 20, 2012 at 11:00 PM
If the mural and BBQ area were "not in violation of the City's guidelines" why would there be a problem or an appeal in the first place? Talk about misstatements.
Informed Citizen April 20, 2012 at 11:08 PM
It is idiotic statements like these that made me finally break down and make a patch account. I have lived in Lake Forest for almost 24 years (before it was even a city) and have never been more concerned about the direction of the Council than I am now. I was hopeful the city would be able to find a suitable replacement for Dixon (God rest his soul) but talk like this confirms the worst. Since 2010 and especially since Jan. I have become increasingly disturbed by Lake Forest's leadership. Also, can you not add? 3'+7'=10' above the sidewalk! So now our new center is going to have some monstrosity right out in front??? Also, I don't want to have to smell BBQ everyday when I drive down El Toro Rd. Summer is coming and I would like to be able to keep my windows down without having the smell of meat waft into my car thank you very much!
Informed Citizen April 20, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Except that without the new Arbor, there would be no Shop and Dine Program. So not only do we have the City's cooperation in the redevelopment project itself, they are now being given awards for their appropriate marketing and continued cooperation and community engagement with those businesses. How is that being successful "in spite of the city" I wonder?
Lake Forest Citizen Paying Attention April 20, 2012 at 11:32 PM
@Informed Citizen - Seriously? Your attack on my ability to add only goes to show your own lack of basic reading comprehension. The area where the BBQ sits is not 3' + 7' = 10' above the sidewalk. The BBQ is in a small walled enclosure immediately next to the building. The building sits on level ground that is 3' higher than the sidewalk along El Toro Road. The enclosure, that is 3' above the sidewalk, is then 7' FURTHER AWAY from El Toro Road than the sidewalk is, with the majority of that 7' being a landscaped slope up to the level of the restaurant (again, only 3' of elevation, not some 10' monstrosity). The enclosure in question is already partially in existence due to a 3' high stonework fence being erected around the back and side of the BBQ area. The stonework is identical to that on the side of the building and blends into the view of the building from El Toro Road. The version of the enclosure that was approved by the Council will add another 3 feet of height in the form of a clear plexi-glass partition and a lockable gate being added to the front of the enclosure. The folks at Sizzler will also add additional landscaping to the area behind and along side the enclosure to further soften (i.e. reduce) its visibility from the road level. Far from an eyesore, the Sizzler is actually the best looking, and truest to the redevelopment theme, of any of the buildings on that side of El Toro at the corner of Raymond. Omar's Birds still has the ugly blue roof for Pete's sake!
Lake Forest Citizen Paying Attention April 20, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Perhaps "Informed Citizen" would like to come out from behind the cowardly cover of internet anonymity and put his name on the position he takes. But then again, perhaps he has to hide his name to maintain some modicum of credibility; after all, it doesn't give the impression of unbiased support for the Planning Commission for sitting members to rant in their own name.
Informed Citizen April 21, 2012 at 12:29 AM
My point exactly. From the road, if you total up all the "improvements" Sizzler is deciding to grace us with, their structure is going to stand a total of 10' above street level, in a landscaped-"softened" slope-plexiglass nightmare. And I disagree that Sizzler is the best looking, and truest to the redevelopment theme. They already stand out enough by being different colors (which the PC let them do) enough is enough. I think Bru is an excellent example of a restaurant the fits the codes and is doing an excellent business with its own unique flare (good food and service). Agreed, Omar's is heinous, but should think the City did not leave them out of the redevelopment by choice. There are landowners to consider as well.
Informed Citizen April 21, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Your right, clearly anyone with an opinion different than yours is a crazed conspirator. You know what helps your arguments? Name calling. That isn't bespoke to cowardice at all.
Tracy Cervellone CWE April 26, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Helloooo out there. I'm not a big fan of suburban advertising, or sprawl, or tacky outdoor events, but here's the rub: PEOPLE work here. They depend on the money this activity generates. Geeez. This development is a few hundred yards from the 5 freeway! This isn't a nature preserve. Or Beverly Hills... (which is a cemetery now, trust me, I go there on business regularly). I moved here from LA in 1991, when it was still El Toro. You know what? I miss a couple of the old businesses, the funkyness of the old center...but that's life. Outdoor BBQ? Cool. People will love it. Signs? Seriously? Who cares? Customers don't. And their money is crucial to our success as a community, like it or not. Loved the comment about the appeals process being part of the system. It is. And we need to move on. Customers will vote with their pocket books. A vibrant, and yes, sometimes "colored outside of the lines" business community is imperative for long term success of the entire area. This recession is NOT over. We are all still on a very thin bubble, truth be told. If it draws paying customers in, and therefore enables businesses to hire more people, we all need to sit down, have some BBQ and a glass of wine and get over ourselves. Pronto.
J.R.Mathews April 26, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Completely agree. The needs of the people, the businesses, and the community are more important than the static design guidelines. Again, for Informed Citizens or otherwise, the rules under which the Planning Commission ruled were guildelines. We all know what a "guideline" is, right? The Planning Commission can interpret a guideline one way, and a Council is free to interpret it another way (which is what happened in this case), and approve the Sizzler request. Keep in mind the priorities - people, business, community. Focus on what is important, and then do what Tracy recommended - have some BBQ, a glass of wine, and move on.
Greg April 26, 2012 at 10:39 PM
For a purported "informed" citizen, you should bother to read the staff report. The Planning Commission applied subjective guidelines and determined that the BBQ and mural did not meet the guidelines (for example, the Commission found that hte BBQ was akin to a human sign - I guarantee that's a purely subjective determination). The Council applied the guidelines and came out with a different interpretation and result. Hence, there was no violation of the City's guidelines since the Council, and not the whiny Planning Commission, is the final arbiter of these matters. Try again with a real and rational argument.
J Steele May 02, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Treating each business the same sounds great...unless they're all being treated wrong or poorly. The gov't recognized this and made a change for the better (which seems unfair to some in the small, short view). Way to go City of Lake Forest! proud to live here :)

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