LED billboard along Orchard Road? : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|LED billboard along Orchard Road?|
|Montgomery denies variance request, but could allow sign as special use |
|by John Etheredge|
Large billboard signs may once again be permitted along highways and streets in the Village of Montgomery.
A majority of village board members voiced support Monday evening for allowing billboard signs as a special use under an amended village sign ordinance.
Board members referred the issue to the village's plan commission for further study and an advisory recommendation. The board retains the right to cast the final vote on any amendments to the ordinance.
Voicing support for allowing billboard signs were board members Andy Kaczmarek, William Keck, Denny Lee and Pete Heinz.
Board member Stan Bond said he also favored referring the question of permitting billboard signs back to the plan commission, in part to allow further public discussion on the issue.
Bond noted he has heard only negative comments from village residents who are aware billboard signs might again be allowed.
Board member Matt Brolley noted that the number of billboard signs have been reduced in the village since they were prohibited under the sign ordinance in 2006.
Referring to a prior board's decision to prohibit billboards, Brolley said, "I agree with the vision we had in the past."
The board's decision to revisit the billboard issue was prompted by a request from an Indiana-based company, Lamar Advertising, for a variance from the sign ordinance to allow for the installation of an electronic LED billboard sign along the east side of Orchard Road, north of Aucutt Road.
The board, however, voted unanimously to reject the variance request Monday after determining it did not meet any of the eight criteria under the ordinance for a variance.
However, Steve Andersson, an attorney for the village, said the board could amend the sign ordinance to include billboard signs as a special use.
Lamar Advertising could apply for a special use permit to put up the sign if the board votes to amend the sign ordinance to include billboards as a special use, according to Andersson.
As proposed by Lamar Advertising, the sign would be mounted on a 30 foot tall pole and flash six advertising messages every 10 seconds on a billboard measuring 12 feet high and 25 feet wide at the corner of Aucutt and Orchard Roads.
Shawn Pettit of Lamar Advertising told board members his firm would initially like to install a single sided sign with messages that could be viewed by northbound traffic on Orchard Road.
If there is enough demand from advertisers, Lamar Advertising would like to install a second LED display on the north side of the sign that would flash messages to southbound Orchard Road traffic, according to Pettit.
The sign would replace a conventional billboard sign that has stood near the intersection for the past 30 years.
The Kane County Division of Transportation (KDOT) previously acquired the land the current sign now stands on to provide additional right-of-way needed to widen Orchard Road to five lanes. Since KDOT prohibits billboard signs to be placed in the public right-of-way, the existing sign must be removed.
As a result, Lamar Advertising filed the request for the variance to install the new LED billboard sign on private property owned by Don Hamman, just south side the county's right-of-way at the intersection.
Board cautioned on
But village staff and attorneys cautioned board members during a committee meeting Nov. 20 that if they approved the variance for the sign it could set a precedent for the installation of other billboard signs throughout the village.
Peter Wilson, also an attorney for the village, told the board his firm has no legal opinion on whether they like the sign or not.
"If you want these types of signs (in the village), you have the ability and the authority to do it," he said, adding, "But typically you do that by your sign ordinance. In this instance, you have an ordinance that says you will not approve a billboard (sign)."
Wilson said the legal way for the board to allow the sign would be to amend the sign ordinance and permit billboards signs.
Wilson acknowledged the ordinance does allow the board to grant a variance for selected signs providing they meet each of eight criteria contained in the ordinance.
"For the granting of a variance you are required to make a factual finding-not just a conclusion. You are supposed to have factual basis for finding that they meet each of the eight items in the ordinance as a test," Wilson said.
If the board were to now ignore those eight criteria for a variance and approve the sign, Wilson said it could result in a constitutional challenge or an equal protection challenge in court "because the laws have to apply to everybody."
Wilson continnued, "From a legal standpoint we have a concern-not with the sign or what you want to have happen with the sign-but with the process here by which the petitioner (Lamar) wants to get that sign up."
Jerad Chipman, a planner for the village, told the board that removal of billboard signs has been an ongoing objective for village staff as directed by the board since 2006.
Jamie Ludovic, assistant village administrator, told board members, "If a variance is granted for this sign-it could be done-but it would be difficult to not grant variances for similar signs. So please consider that as you think about this as sort of a precedent setting situation."
Bond noted that Char Coulombe-Fiorre, executive director of the Montgomery Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), told the village plan commission that she believes the sign could be good for local businesses.
However, Bond said he questions how many local businesses could afford to pay for advertisements on the sign.
Bond asked village staff to provide information on the brightness of the sign and said he believes the board needs more information to determine if the sign with its flashing messages would prove a distraction to drivers.
"I think our accident rate is higher than we want to see on Orchard Road," Bond said.
Pettit told Bond that studies have been done by the Federal Highway Administration and Virginia Tech that have found LED signs pose no more of a distraction to drivers than cell phones or radios.
Kaczmarek voiced support for the sign and noted it would be installed at "no cost to the village."
Kaczmarek said he is also not concerned about the lights on the sign being overly bright.
"I go through Indiana a lot of times and I don't see a big distraction at all on those-they are just like a regular billboard or street signs," Kaczmarek said.
Keck noted the "there is very little residential" along the Orchard Road corridor and Lamar is proposing to move the sign even further away from existing homes.
"I see these signs. There are a whole bunch of them along I-294," Keck said.
"I would see this as a very business friendly feature that we could approve and then offer it to businesses in our area," Keck continued. "I like the idea of being the first one out there, and I would like to see the second side to the sign added rather quickly and not lag to far behind."
Keck added, "I just see this as an opportunity to be business friendly, which we talk about often. Businesses thrive and survive on advertisements. I think this is a win-win for a our area."
Keck said he would also like to see the village consider other locations in the community for similar-types of signs.
Brolley, however, noted the village has made progress in removing billboard signs since amending the sign ordinance in 2006.
"It has been our long standing policy to not allow billboard signs and we've been working towards getting rid of those," he said.
Referring to the proposed sign, Brolley said, "This is one of our busiest streets in town and, more important, I don't think it is appropriate in the Orchard Road corridor."
"I think Orchard Road is nothing like an interstate," Bond said. "We are expecting Orchard Road to develop in ways that will benefit our area and I don't think people are going to want to build or develop around this kind of device. So I think we need to be very careful of what our long-term vision of Orchard Road is."
Bond added that if board members are uncomfortable with the village's planning process concerning billboard signs, the ordinance should be changed.
"I also would like to see us slowdown here," Bond said. "I would like a couple of weeks so our residents can communicate their wishes to us, plus ask some questions as well.
"I don't envision Orchard Road as a pathway for lighted or billboard-type advertising. I see it as something entirely different," Bond said.
Bond said he would also like the plan commission to review the billboard sign issue as it applies to the whole village, including the Orchard Road corridor.