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City maintains ban on new billboards

Evanstonians will not have any new billboards to look at as they drive or walk along city streets or ride trains through town.

City Council members on the Planning and Development Committee voted 5-2 last week to reject a measure proposed by Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) to permit new billboards as a special use in areas near the CTA and Metra tracks.

Suffredin’s proposal was a response to a request from Patrick Fowler, owner of the Firehouse Grill on Chicago Avenue that he be allowed to construct a billboard facing the CTA tracks on the back of his building.

At the Planning and Development meeting Suffredin stressed that the ordinance change wouldn’t by itself approve any new billboards — that any applicant would have to go through a special use request process and get City Council approval for the new sign.

Melissa Wynne.

But Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said she’s opposed to billboards and had heard recently from many residents of her ward who also oppose them.

The city’s Land Use Commission voted unanimously to oppose the billboard plan, with Chair Matt Rodgers saying the large signs would be “contrary to the character of the city.”

And Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) citied the LUC vote and comments from ward residents against the proposal as reasons for his opposition.

Two council members — Bobby Burns (5th) and Juan Geracaris (9th) — voted in favor of advancing the billboard issue to the full City Council.

A CTA train rolls past a billboard on Chicago Avenue north of Greenwood Street.

Burns said he could live with new billboards as long as they only faced the train tracks.

But he said he was concerned that, under US Supreme Court rulings, the city would be unable to regulate the content of the signs.

The rejection of the proposal by the committee means it will not advance to the full City Council for consideration.

The handful of existing billboards along the Metra and CTA tracks — which face the adjoining roadway rather than the tracks — are grandfathered in since they were installed before the council decades ago barred the erection of new billboards in the city.

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