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Satellite dish crackdown advances in City Council

The buildings 4200 block west NelsStreet  have number satellite dishes outside walls. An ordinance advanced  Thursday seeks limit

The buildings in the 4200 block of west Nelson Street have a number of satellite dishes on the outside walls. An ordinance advanced Thursday seeks to limit them on the fronts of buildings. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 28, 2012 8:15AM

Chicagoans would be prohibited from installing satellite dishes in front of their homes and businesses without written justification — and required to remove them if they cancel service or move — under a beautification ordinance advanced Thursday.

The City Council’s Zoning Committee cracked the whip after a show-and-tell by Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) that included photographs of a Northwest Side apartment building with nine satellite dishes in front.

“It looks so terrible. ... They could put these on the side of the building and nobody would complain. But, they have to put ’em in the front,” Suarez said.

“It reminds me of when Comcast first started installing those cables in front of the buildings and through the windows. Finally, enough folks complained and Comcast figured out a way to do this in a classy way.”

Lisa McCabe, director of public policy for the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association, argued that the ordinance “unfairly singles out” satellite customers for additional regulation at a time when “you still see cable all over the city” and window air-conditioners that are equally unattractive.

She noted that a “very similar” Philadelphia ordinance is currently under review by the Federal Communications Commission for “potential violations” of federal law, she said.

“Regulating an industry based on aesthetics is difficult and problematic. There may be other things people find unattractive that are not being regulated,” McCabe said.

Although a Feb. 1 policy change will instruct satellite dish installers to choose the “least obtrusive spot,” McCabe said, “In many cases, there is no other place to get service. They might not be able to get a signal in any other locations.”

The ordinance approved Thursday would not require dishes already installed in front of homes and businesses to be removed.

But, new dishes could not be installed “between the façade of a building and any street adjacent to the property” unless they were “wholly within a balcony or patio area under the exclusive control of the user.”

If roof, side or back installation is “not technically feasible” — either because it would result in a “material delay,” poor signal or “significant additional cost” to the user — the satellite company would have to provide a signed statement certifying the reasons why.

Even then the front installation would have to be “minimally visible” from the street and “shielded from view ... to the greatest extent possible” by landscaping, fencing or structural architectural elements.

The ordinance further states that all dishes “shall be disconnected and removed” when the devices are no longer in service.

Suarez stressed that the crackdown would be “complaint driven.” City building inspectors will not be cruising the city and writing citations.

But if the comments from other aldermen were any indication, there should be no shortage of complaints.

“Go down a block with beautiful octagon buildings and all the sudden, you see one of these things sticking up. What’s worse is when you see it on multi-unit buildings where we know ... people have moved out. New people have come in. They’ve got Comcast. But they’ve still got the dish there,” said Ald. Richard Mell (33rd).

“We protected the lake from phosphates. We tried to protect the city from spray paint by eliminating the cans. This ordinance goes a long way” toward protecting neighborhoods from ugly installations.

Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th) added, “Sometimes, installers take the easy way out. They take the short ladder off the truck. They don’t want to go up to the roof. As an electrician, I understand how that works.”

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