Ald. Smith Baying At The Moon Over Signs


We received an undated “Press Release” from Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) concerning his plan for “raising issues and offering amendments” at the January 28th City Council Committee of the Whole meeting concerning the City’s sign ordinance.

Unfortunately, we didn’t receive it until days after that meeting.

Which is probably okay, because we had a hard time making much sense out of what Smith is complaining about – other than Mayor Dave Schmidt for creating a Sign Task Force that, according to Smith, Schmidt “packed…with proponents of rigorous regulation” who have proposed amendments to the Zoning Code that will create “a more business-hostile environment.”

Who are these business-hostile task force folks? 

Judy Barclay of the Historic Preservation Commission.  Mark Dejardins, who reportedly operates a sign business.  Sheila Duda of the Tea Lula tea shop.  Kathie Hahn of the Park Ridge Park District.  Brian Kidd of the City’s Appearance Commission.  Alfredo Marr of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission.  local real estate agent Joan Sandrik.  Resident Paul Sheehan.  And Gary Zimmerman, of the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Frankly, we aren’t aware of any facts that would suggest these folks are “anti-business.”  And Smith doesn’t explain how they are, or how he knows it.

Whether the City’s sign ordinance needs clarification, amendment, or a complete rewrite is unclear to us.  Generally speaking, we don’t find any of the business signs around town offensive.  But the Sign Task Force was created to assess that situation and, as best as we can tell, it has done its job.

Is every one of the recommendations the Task Force has come up with optimal?  Probably not.  But do the proposed amendments make the Zoning Code hostile to businesses with signage? 

As best as we can tell from his Press Release, they may require “a number of new signs even though the original ones are perfectly serviceable for their intended purpose.”  But the only example he offers is the Dunkin’ Donuts at Touhy and Greenwood. 

That’s not a bad example, mind you, because it does illustrate the odd-to-goofy situation (if Smith is correct) where a non-compliant, free-standing sign is permitted to advertise the dry cleaners next to DD but cannot also advertise DD – because the dry cleaners’ sign is grandfathered in, while the newer DD does not enjoy the same status and exception to the rule.

Smitty’s real beef, however, seems to be not the “grandfathering” exception that currently creates this anomaly, but the proposed elimination of that exception by these proposed amendments, which would require replacement of the entire sign by January 1, 2015 with one that conforms to the ordinance.

In recent months, Smith has demonstrated an amazing ability to propose things that don’t even get a second from the rest of the Council.  That occurred at the January 28th meeting, when he moved to delete Section 14.18 of the revised sign ordinance – the section that sets a January 1, 2015 deadline for non-conforming signs to be brought into compliance – and failed to get a second.   

That two-year amortization period has been acknowledged by City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill as being “aggressive,” so a Council debate on the length of that amortization period would have made sense.

Had Smitty been concerned with actually legislating rather than political grandstanding, he could have moved to expand the compliance window to 3, 4 or even 5 years.  Or he could have sought a special compliance window for those businesses who installed a new sign within the past 1 or 2 years, so that they could recoup more of their recent sign investment made without any expectation of a change in the ordinance.  Either one would have triggered the kind of debate these issues deserve.

Instead, he chose to make his DOA motion. 

But only after issuing his Press Release, and baying at the moon.

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