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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