McHenry County Board says billboard ban stays in place

Expires in Sept. or when stricter county rule made

WOODSTOCK – The sign says, electronic billboard builders need not apply – at least not until September.

The McHenry County Board extended an expiring moratorium on constructing off-premises electronic billboards to mid-September or upon ratification of the unified development ordinance, whichever comes first. 

The extension easily passed on a voice vote, despite coming to the board with no committee recommendation – the Planning and Development Committee was deadlocked earlier this month on a 3-3 impasse.

Board members imposed the moratorium in September at the request of Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills and Lakewood officials. It was set to expire Wednesday, but ratification of the unified development ordinance is still months away.

The governments of the four municipalities asked the county 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.

The unified development ordinance is expected to impose more stringent standards and limitations on billboards, both regular and electronic.

The county’s Department of Planning and Development had received at least six requests for permits in the months leading up to the moratorium. Opponents of the signs call them eyesores that cause light pollution, lower surrounding property values and reduce driver safety.

Representatives from Algonquin, Lake in the Hills and Lakemoor asked the County Board during the public comment period to extend the ban.

“If you drop the moratorium, signs are going to go up and it makes it almost impossible for the [unified development ordinance] to have any regulatory language on electronic signage,” Algonquin Village President John Schmitt said.

Crystal Lake was forced prior to the moratorium 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. Lakewood likewise annexed land on Route 47 to stop another sign.

Lakewood Village Manager Catherine Peterson told board members that it does not make for good planning when governments are forced to annex land to stop undesirable projects.

The extension puts the unified development ordinance review process under a deadline of sorts, because the State’s Attorney’s Office advised against extending it beyond a year. 

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