Skokie Review: Skokie panel close to backing looser sign restrictions

The Skokie Economic Development Commission is considering loosening village restrictions on commercial electronic signs and sandwich or A-frame signs.

The commission recently held a public hearing about Skokie’s sign code. The consensus among commissioners, Chairman Scott "Shalom" Klein said, is regulations on these two types of signs are too restrictive and not business-friendly enough.

The current village ordinance requires owners of electronic signs not to change messages more than once every 24 hours, which some commissioners say is excessively strict.

“I’d like to think Skokie is in the curve and not behind it,” said Village Inn restaurant owner Randy Miles, a commission member and president of the Independent Merchants of Downtown Skokie. “I travel a fair amount, and I see a lot of different communities, and I think there is a case for moving electronic signs. I’ve felt that way for quite some time.”

Miles made those comments at the commission’s public hearing last month, and there seemed to be agreement among many of the commissioners when they met Sept. 30.

“There were some heated comments about electronic signs [at the hearing], and my personal feeling is that the comments were spot-on,” Klein said. “How can it be that the village has a Skokie Swift sign that changes however often it changes, but meanwhile businesses that are investing thousands of dollars aren’t allowed the same?”

If it’s a safety hazard, Klein said, then shouldn’t it be a safety hazard for all?

“Let’s not have a double standard over here when we are a very business-friendly community. This doesn’t send the right message,” he said.

In 2010, downtown merchants, who needed a boost as a result of the sluggish economy, asked for and were granted a reprieve from the village’s ban against sidewalk signs outside their establishments.

But even then, there were merchants who said there should be greater allowances for these type of signs on a permanent basis.

“The issue has been talked about now for years,” Klein said.

Some business owners have erected sandwich signs, which technically are illegal under the ordinance. Business owners can be subject to $200 fines.

“It’s not being regulated right now, but the ordinance that’s in place only allows signs within 10 feet of the door of a business,” Klein said.

The commission is not only looking to address tight restrictions about these two types of signs but to clarify what is and isn’t allowed for a Skokie business when it comes to erecting signs. There has been confusion, Klein said.

“We’re business friendly, and it’s about time we make it clear what a business can and can’t do before they invest thousands of dollars into signage,” he said. “They should know. That’s really the third piece I hope we accomplish — the education.”

Right now, Klein said, the sign code is confusing because some ordinances on the books are being regulated while others are not.

Klein and Economic Development Commission Vice Chairman Howard Meyer, who also heads up the Skokie Chamber of Commerce, will review all comments with Corporation Counsel Michael Lorge. Klein hopes to have recommendations drafted for the Economic Development Commission to consider at its Nov. 25 meeting.

The recommendations will likely be run past the Skokie Appearance Commission before the Village Board takes a final vote.

“I don’t think it’s much of a contentious issue,” Klein said. “I think everyone will pretty much agree that these are changes that are long overdue. We are living in 2014 and almost 2015 and digital signs and sandwich signs are not a bad thing if they’re done properly.”

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