SAN CLEMENTE Seventeen years after Eddie Ghassemi inquired at City Hall about remodeling his gas station, he finally has the approval he wanted.
San Clemente planning commissioners voted 6-0 on Oct. 4 to approve his plan to renovate his Valero station at 504 N. Avenida de la Estrella without having to take down its 75-foot-tall freeway pole sign.
“I’m very happy everything went through,” he said. “I think that is going to be a major improvement for this corner. This is a beautiful building. It’s going to cost me a lot of money.”
For decades, San Clemente has been trying to get rid of tall freeway-oriented pole signs by requiring removal if they are ill-maintained, if there is a change in land use or if a business owning a sign closes for more than 90 days.
At the Valero, Ghassemi plans to convert service bays into a convenience store, which the city considered a change of use.
In 2013, he got Planning Commission approval of his remodeling plan, but with the condition that the pole sign must come down. He appealed to the City Council, saying the sign was critical to his business.
“I bought this property with my sign,” he said. “Why should I go ahead and spend all this money and try to improve this corner if I have to take down the sign?”
The City Council tabled his request while he tried refining his plans. He sought help from Santa Barbara architect Henry Lenny and Vanguard Planning of Santa Barbara.
Planning consultant Jarrett Gorin told Ghassemi about a section of California’s Business and Professions Code that could help him.
“I had experience with it from another case up here in Santa Barbara,” Gorin said.
Ghassemi’s site uniquely fit the criteria of Section 5499, which Gorin said would not allow cities to require removal of a sign like his, a sign dating back to the 1960s in a visually challenged area like I-5’s Avenida Palizada off-ramp.
“Topographical impairment,” Gorin called it. “It’s not possible to know the…