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New billboards could be put on hold in county

WOODSTOCK – A slew of requests to build electronic billboards is prompting the McHenry County Board to consider a moratorium until its new development ordinance is in place.

After a number of complaints from municipal governments that have stricter billboard regulations, the board’s Planning and Development Committee will vote today on a recommendation to halt approvals of billboard requests. Although inspired by electronic billboards, a moratorium would temporarily stop all requests for off-premises commercial advertising, electronic or not.

If approved by the full County Board, the ban would last until April or until board members formally approve a new unified development ordinance, whichever comes first. The ban, like the county’s zoning jurisdiction, covers only unincorporated areas of the county and does not affect on-premises commercial or temporary signage.

Committee Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said the moratorium addresses county concerns, and those of municipalities, that electronic sign companies are seeking as many signs as possible before tougher regulations are put in place. Hill supports a moratorium.

“More than the usual number of requests for permits are coming in. Some staff and older [board] members remember that the last time we changed the ordinance, [sign builders] got wind of it,” Hill said.

Since late last year, the county has received six applications for electronic signs, county Planning and Development Director Dennis Sandquist said. The proximity of several of them to municipal areas prompted Crystal Lake, Algonquin and Lakewood to ask the County Board to impose a moratorium.

Crystal Lake recently annexed an acre of unincorporated land on Route 14 to prevent a media company from building a 35-foot-tall electronic billboard five times larger than what the city’s sign ordinance allows.

The text of the proposed moratorium says such signs cause blight, reduce property values and driver safety, and contribute to light pollution. The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office concluded in an Aug. 29 opinion that the County Board can impose a moratorium on new signs.

The proposed unified development ordinance would make it tougher to site billboards, regular or electronic. If approved as is, future signs will require a conditional-use permit and have to adhere to more stringent standards and limitations. Hill said County Board members received copies of the draft Tuesday, and she anticipates that the ordinance, after a review process, will come to a formal vote in January.

If her committee recommends the moratorium, it will go before the County Board at its Sept. 18 meeting, with a requested waiver of the usual 30-day review for changes to county ordinance.

What it means

The McHenry County Board Planning and Development Committee will vote today on whether to recommend a temporary moratorium on off-premises commercial advertising until the county’s new unified development ordinance is approved.

The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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