Another extension proposed for electronic billboard moratorium

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board will be asking for a second extension of its ongoing moratorium on electronic billboards.

Its Planning and Development Committee directed county staff on Thursday to draft a resolution that would extend the moratorium another nine months to June 2014. The moratorium, which applies to electronic billboards off-premises from commercial properties, is set to expire in mid-September.

It could expire sooner upon ratification of the county’s unified development ordinance, or UDO, now undergoing painstaking review. The original six-month moratorium approved last September and its six-month extension in April also had provisions to end them upon the UDO taking effect.

A second extension would put the moratorium longer than one year, which the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office advised against when the County Board granted the previous extension. County staff presented the committee Thursday with the option of temporarily imposing the electronic sign restrictions in the draft UDO, but the committee chose an extension.

“I think [an extension] is worth a shot. If we get sued, we get sued. I’m willing to take the chance,” said committee Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, who is a zoning attorney.

The County Board imposed the moratorium last September at the request of the governments of Algonquin, Crystal Lake, Lake in the Hills and Lakewood. Officials asked the county for a temporary ban out of frustration after there was a surge of requests by sign companies to erect large video billboards on unincorporated land outside their boundaries, where the county’s sign rules are, for now, much less strict.

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

Both Crystal Lake and Lakewood were forced to annex land to prevent two such billboards from being erected. Crystal Lake annexed a pocket on Route 14 that it surrounded to stop a media company from building a 35-foot-fall electronic billboard, which is five times larger than what the city’s sign ordinance allows.

The UDO, now in draft form, modernizes all of the county’s development ordinances and combines them into a single code. The Planning and Development Committee, which is now meeting four times monthly, is currently reviewing Chapter 14 of the 20-chapter ordinance, Gottemoller said. After the review is done, the draft will go out for public comment, and face subsequent revision prior to County Board ratification.

The committee recommended a nine-month extension, rather than six months, in hopes to give extra cushion to get the UDO approved.

County Planning and Development Director Dennis Sandquist said the proposed extension can be ready for the committee’s recommendation at its next regular meeting. The proposed extension would then be put on a 30-day review prior to a full County Board vote.

New electronic billboard restrictions in the current draft UDO require a conditional use permit for construction, limit their height to 35 feet and their display area to 400 square feet. They also forbid animation, video and other movement, limit luminosity depending on time of day, and set minimum distances of 100 feet from residential and agricultural land and 300 feet from other signs.

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