By Bob Uphues
The storefronts of the new shopping center at the corner of Desplaines Avenue and Cermak Road in North Riverside are starting to fill up, with one tenant already open and two others in the process.
But the owner also has secured the unanimous blessing of both the village's Zoning Board of Appeals and village board to make the shopping center at 7921 Cermak Road much more visible to motorists.
In October the Zoning Board of Appeals agreed that the property owner met the hardship requirements necessary to approve a zoning variation to allow the construction of a 17-foot tall, 11-foot wide sign, including an illuminated LED message board, at the corner of Desplaines and Cermak.
On Nov. 20, members of the village board voted unanimously to concur with the findings of the Zoning Board of Appeals and allow the sign. An ordinance granting the zoning variance will be up for a vote of the village board on Dec. 11. As the board has already voted to concur with the Zoning Board of Appeals' recommendation, the vote is expected to be a formality.
The height of the sign is actually below the 30-foot standard in the code. However, the variation was necessary, because the village's sign code limits the aggregate gross area of ground signs to 60 square feet. The sign recommended for approval by the Zoning Board of Appeals has an aggregate gross area of 306 square feet.
The illuminated LED portion of the sign itself is proposed to be a little more than 30 square feet. Below the message board are nine spaces to advertise tenants of the shopping center.
While the approved sign will be four times what the village's code allows, it's still far smaller than it might have been.
In March, the owner of the property Robert Houpy, approached the Zoning Board of appeals with an application to allow a sign that was 25 feet tall and had an aggregate surface area of 600 square feet.
The Zoning Board of Appeals postponed a vote on that application, and staff met subsequently with Houpy, telling him that a sign of that size wouldn't be recommended for approval.
Houpy revised his application, lowering the height and essentially cutting the aggregate surface area in half. Although the sign will be placed very near the corner of the property – essentially next to the east-west traffic light on the southeast corner of the intersection –the village's engineer determined it would not obstruct the vision of drivers or the traffic signal itself.
Staff recommended that images on the illuminated portion of the sign be displayed for a certain period of time to avoid a flashing effect, and that the sign wouldn't use flashing, animated or chasing lights.
It's been more than a decade since the commercial property at Desplaines and Cermak has housed an active business. Houpy bought the formerly derelict property in 2014, and the renovated and expanded strip mall has been under construction for more than two years.
The first tenant to open this fall was Ladies and Gentlemen's Style Shop, which relocated to North Riverside from the Forest Park Mall. Other tenants slated to open in the near future are a nail salon and a gambling parlor.