Panel backs a county billboard moratorium

WOODSTOCK – Municipal leaders imploring the McHenry County Board to enact a moratorium on electronic billboards are worried that a close vote in committee Thursday, and the debate before it, signals that such a temporary ban could be rejected.

The Planning and Development Committee voted, 3-2, to recommend a ban on approving requests to build electronic billboards until the county finalizes its unified development ordinance. Crystal Lake, Algonquin and
Lakewood asked for the moratorium out of frustration with proposed electronic billboards on unincorporated land near the municipalities. The county’s sign regulations are less stringent than the municipalities’.

The village of Lake in the Hills is considering joining the call for a ban.

Crystal Lake took the step of annexing land to prevent an electronic sign on Route 14, and Lakewood is following suit to stop one on Route 47. The sign requests are two of six the county Planning and Development Department has received since late last year.

“I’m concerned that the vote, 3-2, might be an indication of the level of County Board support to expect,” said Lakewood Village President Erin Smith, who attended the meeting.

The moratorium as written would temporarily stop all requests for off-premises commercial advertising, regular or electronic. If approved by the full County Board at its Sept. 18 meeting, the ban would last until mid-April or the ratification of new development codes, whichever comes first. Committee Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, anticipates approval of the codes in January.

The draft of the ordinance released earlier this week makes it tougher to site billboards, regular or electronic. If approved as is, future signs will require a conditional-use permit and will have to adhere to more stringent standards and limitations. Electronic signs will face additional restrictions.

Hill, James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake, and Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, voted to recommend a moratorium. Marc Munaretto, R-Algonquin, and Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake, voted against it.

Munaretto said he had several problems with the resolution’s language, and wants to make sure it is appropriate and defensible. The McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office has said a temporary ban would be legal and well within the County Board’s power.

Draffkorn said the ban goes too far. “That just seems a little too much, and I don’t care for that at all,” she said.

Munaretto told municipal officials at the meeting that they have the power, which Crystal Lake and Lakewood are exercising, to annex land to thwart electronic signs. But Smith and Algonquin Village President John Schmitt said the ability to use that power is an exception and not the rule.

Crystal Lake and Lakewood are able to annex properties where they fear the billboards will be built because they surround the land. By law, a municipality has to border a property on at least three sides to annex it. In Algonquin’s case, it would have to annex land up to two signs it wants to prevent on Algonquin Road and Route 31.

Lakewood Village Administrator Catherine Peterson told committee members that a moratorium makes much more sense than forcing municipalities to annex land to stop each sign.

“Having to make this kind of move, a reactionary move, is not good planning,” Peterson said.

Before their vote, committee members asked the state’s attorney’s office for two clarifications that could result in floor amendments made the night of the vote. They asked counsel to weigh in on whether the ban can be applied to three permit requests that have been received but that have not been approved yet.

Members also raised concerns over the appropriateness of language in the resolution. It justifies the ban on the grounds that “undue proliferation” of signs without adequate controls “creates issues of blight, reduced property values, reduced motorist safety, light pollution. and disregard for neighboring properties and uses.”

Although Schmitt said he is happy the County Board is addressing the issue, he fears that a delay or rejection of a moratorium could mean that companies may try to rush through many more electronic billboards before the county’s new rules take effect.

“I’m very concerned that, if a moratorium is delayed, it would facilitate many more companies coming in and building more electronic billboards,” Schmitt said.

What it means

The McHenry County Board Planning and Development Committee on Thursday voted, 3-2, to recommend a moratorium on new commercial billboards until mid-April or until its unified development ordinance is ratified.

Voting “yes” were Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake, and Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock. Voting “no” were Marc Munaretto, R-Algonquin, and Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake. Committee members Mary Donner, R-Crystal Lake, and Randy Donley, R-Union, were absent.

The full County Board will vote on the temporary ban at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18.

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