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LED Billboards: 'We Cannot Permit this Visual Blight,' Alderman Says

By Alisa Hauser | March 26, 2013 10:48am

LINCOLN PARK — The latest in a pushback of bright billboards has flashed in Lincoln Park, where a permit for a new sign before a City Council subcommittee Tuesday will be blocked, at least temporarily, by an alderman citing potential "visual blight."

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said he's deferring the permit request because he wants to meet with the billboard company to learn more about the sign, which is planned for the 1400 block of West Webster Ave. and would be visible to drivers going westbound on Webster, just north of the Webster Place cinemas.

Fioretti said he got wind of the proposed sign through Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who alerted him to the fact it "could be digital."

The permit application describes a 20 x 20 foot "illuminated" sign spanning 400 square feet on the east side of a building at 1464 W. Webster Ave., which was previously in Waguespack's 32nd Ward but is now Fioretti's 2nd Ward after the re-mapping.

The sign would use three "high density discharge" 1,200 wattage lamps, according to the Feb. 13 application prefaced with a cover letter from Gyata Kimmons, who said he was writing on behalf of his client, NYC-based "City USA LLC.

The committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards is chaired by Ald. Danny Solis (25th) and reviews requests for signs over 100 square feet or 24 feet tall.

According to the application, City USA will be the "payer of annual inspection" for the sign, to be erected by Lincoln Services and made by Metromedia, which is a digital display manufacturer according to its website.

Fioretti said he's deferring the application because he needs "find out what their intentions are, what kind of sign this is, and go to the community."

Fioretti predicted that if the board were digital it "would be met with fierce opposition from the community."

Fioretti added: "We cannot permit this visual blight that so many cities are protesting."

Citing travel plans, Kimmons was unable to provide further clarification on his client's sign permit.

The Webster Avenue request is one of 18 signs to be reviewed by the committee, which is also expected to vote on an "illuminated" sign at 1329 N. Clybourn Ave. in Ald. Walter Burnett's 27th Ward that would reach 59 feet tall and span 672 square feet, according to the application.

While aldermen have the authority to to approve or deny larger signs, they have little control over smaller signs, such as a new crop of 10x10 digital billboards that have sprouted up on privately-owned buildings in Wicker Park, Bucktown, East Village and Lincoln Park in recent weeks.

In the past two weeks, new digital LED boards were spotted on the southwest corner of Chicago and Western avenues in West Town and at the northwest corner of Claremont and North avenues in Bucktown.

Earlier this month Waguespack introduced an ordinance requiring aldermanic approval of any off-premises sign, meaning a sign that is not advertising goods or services for a business where the sign is located.

The ordinance, which is backed by 14 alderman including Fioretti and Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), states that "the proliferation of active display advertising signage poses a threat to the quality and character of the City of Chicago's neighborhoods through adverse effects associated  with aesthetics, traffic safety, light pollution."

Under the proposed ordinance, all off-premise signs, no matter the size, would require aldermanic approval.

Moreno called digital billboards a form of "visual pollution" and said that he's "hopeful" the ordinance will be passed by the City Council.

Referring to an LED sign installed at Chicago and Winchester avenues in East Village that was erected in a pedestrian zone, which is prohibited, Moreno said Monday he is "not done trying to get that sign removed" and he's "fighting with City Hall to look at ways sign companies are abusing the process."

An LED digital billboard that went up within the last few weeks at the northwest corner of North and Claremont avenues in the 1st Ward would be an example of a board that would require aldermanic approval and community input if the ordinance were to pass.

Floyd Dillman has owned the building at 2334 W. North Ave. in Bucktown for 10 years and said he decided to rent space along his building to a digital sign company because "property taxes are going up faster than we can raise rent."

"I don't know what else to say except it's a good opportunity," Dillman said.

Dillman said he had one neighbor call when the sign went up expressing concerns it would "look like Las Vegas."

"My biggest concern is that it would be disturbing the peace. It's visible but not very bright, no brighter than a street light. I don't want to be annoying," Dillman said.

While Dillman claims to have heard only the one complaint, Fioretti said a new digital LED board at Madison Street and Ogden Avenue installed Friday by Chicago Green Signs  has drawn "an unprecedented amount of complaints" from residents.

"I was in the Dunkin' Donuts Saturday and a woman came up to me to complain about it. And then I got a call from a guy from a condo association across the street who said he was was looking at the billboard from his window as he was talking to me," Fioretti said.