The City Council opened debate on proposed ordinance changes at its Nov. 19 meeting. Of the changes discussed, the question of whether electronic message board signs should be banned completely -- a provision offered by the Planning & Zoning Commission -- created the evening's biggest sparks. The commission had overruled the Sign Task Force's recommendation to allow electronic message boards under tightly controlled circumstances.
Joseph Campagna, the president of the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce, said the commission's override of the task force was disrespectful and argued that electronic message signs are commonplace. The city can't be afraid of change, he said. "If we're going to keep Park Ridge stagnant in some things, just let the business community know what year we're supposed to keep it," Campagna said.
But John Bennett, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said the panel took a long, hard look at electronic message boards, but couldn't make them work for Park Ridge. For example, he asked, how would the city decide where they should go?
"It wasn't a quick wave-off. There was a lot of discussion," Bennett said. "Going down, we have the potential for large clusters of electronic signs, which is something I don't think we want."
Planning and Zoning Commission member Joseph Baldi said modern electronic signs are essentially giant TV sets that can show anything. "Do you want to let people have televisions as these signs?" he said.
Judy Barclay, the chairwoman of the city's Historic Preservation Commission, offered an emphatic "no." Electronic signs "will drastically change the character of our community," she said, adding that once the city allows them in one location, they will proliferate everywhere.
Aldermen will reconvene the debate at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at City Hall, 505 Butler St.
At the Nov. 19 meeting, aldermen were able to reach an informal consensus on other issues addressed by the proposed sign ordinance. They agreed that:
oSigns which conform to the city's code should no longer need separate approval from the Appearance Commission "unless a determination by [city] staff is appealed."
oWindow displays in vacant storefronts should be allowed for Park Ridge-based and licensed businesses, community organizations and non-profit groups.
The proposed changes are among dozens sought by the city's ad hoc Sign Task Force, convened by Mayor David Schmidt in January 2012. The panel spent a year poring through the ordinance and then made its recommendations to the City Council in January and February of this year. Aldermen referred the task force's recommendations to the Planning & Zoning Commission, which began a public hearing on April 16.
That hearing was continued on May 14, June 11, Sept. 10 and 24. A follow-up hearing was held on Oct. 22, but only on new language regarding canopies. That same night, the Planning & Zoning Commission unanimously approved the proposed changes.
Currently, the city's sign ordinance requires that signs be approved by the Appearance Commission, which meets monthly. But signs that conform to the code just end up on that commission's "consent agenda," meaning they're automatically approved, Zoning Administrator Jim Testin said.
Under the proposed change, Testin said conforming signs could be approved by either him or his designated deputy, a step that he said would speed the approval process for conforming signs.
Alderman Marc Mazzuca, 6th, asked whether residents adjacent to properties where a conforming sign would be placed would be notified and given a chance to object if they choose. Testin said no, since conforming signs comply with the code.
Mazzuca said he wants some notification as a kind of oversight, suggesting that notice be given and signs sent to the Appearance Commission only if a resident raises objections, but he stood alone in that desire.
"It seems to me that Marc's suggestion is a way to empower busy-bodies, and that's the last thing we want to do," Alderman Jim Smith, 3rd, said.
Aldermen were unanimous, however, agreeing with the proposed provision that would allow vacant storefronts to be used by Park Ridge-based community groups and non-profit organizations, or Park Ridge-licensed businesses, for limited forms of "off-site" advertising.
The proposed new provision would allow a display not to exceed 1.3 square feet. Displays would have to be removed as soon as the vacant store is leased. Aldermen agreed to limit those small signs to one per vacant window and explicitly restrict this option to Park Ridge-based or licensed businesses and groups.
The entire proposed ordinance, along with background information, can be seen at http://www.parkridge.us/assets/1/Events/Signs%20Packet.pdf