Some city council members pushed Monday night to add more billboards to the city — rebuffing a Land Use Commission recommendation against permitting new ones here.

Patrick Fowler, owner of the Firehouse Grill on Chicago Avenue, told the Planning and Development Committee that he’d like to put a billboard on the back of his building — where it would face the CTA Purple Line tracks.

Patrick Fowler.

He suggested that in a tough economy for restaurants, he needed all the potential new revenue sources he could find.

Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) said the city doesn’t have any framework for allowing billboards now. He suggested the city might develop a new revenue source if it allowed billboards on city property.

He suggested permitting digital billboards that could have rotating messages that could include public service announcements from the city.

The city code now tightly restricts what it calls variable message signs — limiting them only to time and temperature displays. A few years ago the city even cited a church that had swapped out a menu-board-style sign on its façade for a video display screen.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said he’d be OK with billboards that just faced the railroad tracks.

But Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said, “We don’t need any more billboards in the city.”

There now are about a half dozen billboards in the city, most clustered along the Metra tracks facing Green Bay Road between Simpson and Foster streets. They all apparently were first erected decades ago.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said he doesn’t want more billboards on the street, but he would be comfortable with having billboards visible from the “L” and Metra tracks.

Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) said he could accept billboards as a special use. That means each one would require City Council approval.

Billboards have frequently been criticized as a blight on the landscape and a potential distraction for drivers. Four states — Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont — have prohibited billboards.

On a motion by Reid, the billboard proposal was sent back to the Land Use Commission for further consideration.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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3 Comments

  1. I disagree with Alder Reid quite a bit, but he is absolutely correct on this count. Billboards are visually invasive clutter, and they degrade the character of the area. The CTA-facing billboard on Sherman north of Dempster detracts from that area, and the cluster on Green Bay reminds me of I-294 in the worst way. Do not allow more.

  2. In 1965 Lady Bird Johnson was instrumental in getting the national Highway Beautification Act passed. This Act only applies to outdoor advertising signs along the highway and would not apply to Evanston proper, however, Lady Bird fought for it because billboards are an urban blight. If the city is looking to raise more revenue, please find another source rather than cluttering our town with advertising signs. Sometimes it shouldn’t be all about the money.

  3. Absolutely not. I’d like to take down all of them, They are unsightly and they don’t bring any business to the advertisers. Does anyone think people are running to Northshore because they read the billboard. I live along the railroad tracks between
    Greenwood and Lake, a residential street for 21 years and have tried to get the one across from our bldg to no avail.

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