McHenry County ban on electronic signs up for vote

Committee splits on extending halt

WOODSTOCK – Extending a seven-month moratorium on new electronic billboards in unincorporated areas to a full year could face a close vote on the McHenry County Board.

Its Planning and Development Committee is sending the proposal to the full board without a recommendation after reaching a 3-3 impasse Thursday morning. The moratorium, imposed in September at the request of the county’s three largest municipalities and the village of Lakewood, is set to expire April 17.

The original moratorium included a provision ending it sooner upon County Board ratification of its Unified Development Ordinance. But the ordinance still is undergoing draft review and approval is months away – county staff had anticipated an early 2013 approval at the time of the moratorium vote in September.

The governments of Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Lakewood and Lake in the Hills asked the county last year for a temporary ban out of frustration with a surge of requests by sign companies to erect the large video screens on unincorporated land outside their boundaries, where the county’s sign rules are, for now, much less strict.

Opponents of such signs allege that they cause light
pollution, lower surrounding property values and reduce driver safety.

The county’s Department of Planning and Development had received at least six requests for permits in the months leading up to the moratorium, Director Dennis Sandquist said.

Crystal Lake was forced to annex land on Route 14 that it surrounded to stop a media company from building a 35-foot-tall electronic billboard five times larger than what the city’s sign ordinance allows. Former council member Carolyn Schofield, now a County Board member, supported extending the moratorium until the county’s Unified Development Ordinance is in place.

Lakewood likewise annexed property on Route 47 to stop another proposed electronic billboard.

“I don’t think that’s fair to place that on the municipalities,” said Schofield, R-Crystal Lake.

Schofield and committee members Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, and Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, favored an extension. Committee Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, and members Michael Skala, R-Huntley, and Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake, opposed it.

Gottemoller at first voted “yes,” despite his opposition, in order to allow the full County Board to weigh in. The resolution will come before the County Board at its April 16 meeting.

Gottemoller said that imposing a ban whenever technology changes an industry does not make for good government.

“I don’t think six signs in this county is a crisis,” Gottemoller said.

Draffkorn, one of only two members who were on the committee at the time of last year’s vote, opposed the original moratorium and said she will oppose its extension. The moratorium affects only off-premises commercial advertising.

“I don’t want to stop any business from coming into this county,” Draffkorn said.

Should the County Board extend the moratorium, the State’s Attorney’s Office is advising against doing it again, according to a March 27 memo from Sandquist.

“It may not be reasonable to require property owners continue to wait for over one year while the UDO is finalized [sic],” the memo states.

The Unified Development Ordinance is expected to impose more stringent standards and limitations on billboards, both regular and electronic. 

The original moratorium passed the County Board on a 13-8 split. But 10 of the supporters are still on the County Board, while five of the eight opponents are no longer in office.

How they voted

The McHenry County Board Planning and Development Committee forwarded without recommendation a proposed extension of a 2012 moratorium on new off-premises electronic billboards. The proposal would extend the moratorium, set to expire April 17, to September or when the Unified Development Ordinance is approved, whichever comes first.

Committee members were split, 3-3, on recommending an extension. Members Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, and Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, supported an extension, while Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake, and Michael Skala, R-Huntley, opposed it.

Committee member Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin, was absent.

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