It will be some time before any more small digital signs that critics consider a visual blight will pop up in Chicago neighborhoods after the City Council on Wednesday approved a nine-month halt on the LED displays.
The moratorium, which will expire at the end of April, gives the city time to craft rules for putting up LED signs that are less than 100 square feet. Under current rules, the signs can go up without council approval on private property if they are 100 feet from a residence or replace an existing sign — even if the original was not digital. If they overhang city property, they need council approval.
For months, several aldermen have expressed concerns about the signs, and one company unsuccessfully tried to pull a legislative end run by trying to use city procedures to avoid aldermanic review. That just made more aldermen eager to get a new set of regulations in place.
"A couple of them have gone up and had some adverse effects on people," said Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, who proposed the moratorium along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "They call the alderman's office, and they are highly upset about it, and we can't do anything about it and they blame us for it."
City officials plan to draw up new regulations to determine where the signs could go and how to notify residents and businesses that might be affected. The moratorium could be lifted before April if the city approves new regulations sooner.
Not affected by the timeout are the dozens of digital billboards the city plans to allow along its highways in exchange for cash payments.
Burnett, meanwhile, is working to get a digital sign at 1062 W. Chicago Ave. removed after it went up without his authorization even though it overhangs a city sidewalk.
"I'm trying to get it down, because the lady who owns the (nearby) funeral home right there is going crazy," Burnett said. "You can't see her sign, and she lives upstairs."
The company responsible for that sign is Digital GreenSigns. Emanuel in recent months returned $10,000 in campaign contributions from two of its principals because they gave at a time when another business they were part of was on a short list of companies seeking to do municipal marketing.
In other council action:
•Aldermen approved another multimillion-dollar settlement in a civil rights lawsuit brought against notorious former police Cmdr. Jon Burge. The latest case was brought by Eric Caine, who was released from state prison in 2011 after serving 25 years for a double murder he did not commit. The case was settled for $10 million.
•Emanuel proposed stepping up city penalties for gun offenses when they are committed within 100 feet of a public transportation vehicle or facility, including buses, trains, bus shelters and parking lots, much as the council did last week with offenses near schools. Critics note that most gun offenses are prosecuted under tougher state statutes, not local ordinances.
•The mayor also proposed that the Vienna Beef company get nearly $5 million in special taxing district money to move from the city's North Side to Bridgeport. That money would subsidize the company's plan to spend $12.3 million to buy land and build a 103,000-square-foot factory at 1000 W. Pershing Road, city officials said.
Vienna Beef, which made its debut at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, is moving because the city is rebuilding the intersection of Damen, Elston and Fullerton avenues. That will reroute Elston through the southern portion of the company's current property.
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