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Sign moratorium gets second extension by McHenry County Board

County Board vote keeps ban in place through June

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013 10:16 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013 11:43 p.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board approved a second – and most likely final – extension of its ongoing moratorium on electronic billboards.

Board members voted Tuesday evening, 21-0, to extend the moratorium another nine months to June. The moratorium on electronic billboards off premises from commercial properties, first enacted in September 2012 and extended in April, was set to expire Wednesday.

The moratorium since its inception has contained a provision ending it sooner upon ratification of the county’s unified development ordinance, which is under review. But if the UDO is not ratified by June, the County Board may not go against the advice of the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office, which has opined against continued extensions of the temporary ban beyond one year.

The original six-month moratorium and its six-month extension in April also had provisions to end them upon the UDO taking effect.

The County Board imposed the moratorium a year ago 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-tall 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 finishing its review of the 20-chapter ordinance in joint meetings with the Zoning Board of Appeals. 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 this latest nine-month extension, rather than six months, in hopes to give extra cushion to get the UDO approved.

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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