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Zoning Committee backs ordinance toning down small digital signs

Chicago Buildings Commissioner FeliciDavis said proposed ordinance strikes right balance between interests neighborhood residents needs businesses advertise. | Sun-Times File

Chicago Buildings Commissioner Felicia Davis said a proposed ordinance strikes the right balance between the interests of neighborhood residents and the needs of businesses to advertise. | Sun-Times File Photo

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Updated: April 29, 2014 4:25PM

The City Council’s Zoning Committee moved Tuesday to tone down small digital signs that some say have destroyed the quality of life in city neighborhoods, amid concern the restrictions don’t go far enough.

The ordinance was crafted by aldermen and top mayoral aides during a nine-month sign moratorium. It would limit the brightness of newly-erected digital signs, prohibit motion and require they be turned off from midnight to 5 a.m. unless it’s an “on-premise sign where the business is open.”

Each image “must have a dwell time of no less than ten seconds” to limit distracting motorists. Off-premise digital signs for businesses would have to be at least 125 feet from a residential district. The ordinance applies only to small digital signs where the permit was “applied for on or after April 2.” Existing signs would be grandfathered in.

It could be voted on by the full council on Wednesday.

Buildings Commissioner Felicia Davis argued that City Hall struck a balance between residents’ quality of life and sign companies accused of doing an end-run around the City Council.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) is not so sure.

On streets lined with ground-floor businesses with high-rises above, Reilly warned thickets of signs could give residents “suntans through their windows.”

Ald. Bob Fioretti said a 10-second dwell time isn’t enough. He argued that 20 or 30 seconds would better limit driver distraction.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Rose Kelly countered: “It brings down the brightness of signs. It brings down how big they can be. ... This is a huge step forward.”

Last year, the City Council’s Transportation Committee blocked efforts to put up 100-square-foot digital signs in three wards.

The City Council then slapped a nine-month moratorium on small digital signs to give City Hall time to draft new regulations that give local aldermen more control.


Twitter: fspielman

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