County pulls plug on extreme signs

WOODSTOCK – Heeding pleas from municipalities, the McHenry County Board imposed a temporary ban on approving more permits to build electronic billboards in unincorporated areas.

Members voted Tuesday evening, 13-8, in favor of the ban, waiving the 30-day review for changes to ordinance. The ban takes effect immediately and lasts until either the board approves its unified development ordinance or mid-April, whichever comes first.

Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Lakewood and Lake in the Hills asked the county for a moratorium out of frustration with a surge of requests by sign companies to erect the large video screens on unincorporated land outside of their boundaries, where the county’s sign rules are less strict but set to get stricter with the unified development ordinance.

Board members amended the moratorium to apply to only electronic billboards. Peter Merkel, R-McHenry, supported the ban, pointing out an electronic billboard on Route 31 that he said went up on a county parcel after the city of McHenry denied permission to put it up in city limits.

Merkel stressed such signs are much too bright and obnoxious.

“These are full-blown billboards that are an eyesore, and I don’t see any place for them in McHenry County,” he said.

The county’s Department of Planning and Development has received at least six requests for permits since late last year, Director Dennis Sandquist said. At least two of them were eliminated by municipalities that decided to annex the land to stop them.

Crystal Lake annexed land on Route 14 to stop a media company from building a 35-foot-tall electronic billboard five times larger than what the city’s sign ordinance allows. As the County Board deliberated Tuesday, the Lakewood Village Board held a special meeting to annex a property on Route 47 to stop another proposed electronic billboard.

But municipal leaders told the board’s Planning and Development Committee earlier this month that spot annexation does not make for good planning. The moratorium squeaked through the committee on a 3-2 vote, raising fears by the municipal governments the full County Board would reject it.

The county’s unified development ordinance, which is undergoing review, updates and combines the county’s development-related ordinances into one document.

If approved as is, future traditional and electronic billboards will require a conditional-use permit and will have to adhere to more stringent standards and limitations.

Board member Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, opposed the moratorium.

While she said she respected the municipalities’ concerns, she was not convinced electronic signs present a safety hazard, as an earlier draft of the ordinance alleged. She said such regulations add to Illinois’ reputation as not being friendly to business.

Several of the “no” voters – such as Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, and Mary Donner, R-Crystal Lake – said they did not necessarily oppose the ban, but opposed waiving the 30-day review.

The Planning and Development Committee and the Zoning Board of Appeals are meeting today and again Sept. 26 and 27 to review the draft unified development ordinance.

It is expected to come up for County Board approval in January.

How they voted

The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday evening, 13-8, to put a temporary ban on new permits for electronic billboards.

Voting no were Marc Munaretto, R-Algonquin; Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock; Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake; Bob Bless, R-Fox River Grove; Randy Donley, R-Union; Mary Donner, R-Crystal Lake; Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake; and Anna May Miller, R-Cary.

Board members Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry; Virginia Peschke, R-Woodstock; and Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, were absent.

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