Evanston’s Land Use Commission voiced strong opposition Wednesday night to a suggestion that billboards should be permitted as a special use under the city’s zoning code.
Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) had made a referral last December requesting a change in the zoning code to allow billboards.
Responding to that request, city staff proposed adding a definition of billboards to the zoning code and permitting them as a special use in all zoning districts — so the City Council would become the final arbiter of whether a billboard could be added at a given location.
Staff also suggest the possibility of creating a licensing fee scheme for billboards, so they could generate revenue for the city.
Currently there are at least five billboards in Evanston, clustered along Green Bay Road between Simpson and Foster streets. They all apparently were first erected decades ago.
Land Use Commission Vice-Chair Jeanne Lindwall said the 2020 update to the city’s Comprehensive Plan in Chapter 13 set a policy goal to “eliminate billboard advertisements.”
“So creating a new regulation to allow billboards isn’t consistent with the comprehensive plan,” Lindwall said.
In addition, she said, all the city’s sign controls are aimed at reducing visual clutter while still allowing businesses to advertise their presence.
She also argued that the existing billboards on Green Bay Road create a hazard for drivers. “We don’t want to have distracted drivers reading billboards when they should be watching out for pedestrians,” she said.
Commissioner George Halik said billboards would change the character of city neighborhoods.
Commission Chair Matt Rodgers, who works in marketing said, “I’ve made more billboards than you’ve probably ever read, but I don’t think Evanston is a very appropriate place for them.”
“I can only imagine the outcry from Central Street” — a street that runs through Suffredin’s ward — “if a billboard was proposed there,” Rodgers said. “We’d have 1,000 people here clamoring against it.”
Commissioner Kiril Mirintchev said the city code should have a simple line that “billboards are not allowed in Evanston.”
The commissioners generally supported a package of other zoning code revisions proposed by staff, although they eliminated one proposed new standard for planned development approvals.
That change would have required a property owner to show “a hardship or practical difficulty” to win approval for development allowances.
They also called for rewording one other standard to emphasize climate and sustainability concerns in the planned development process.