After spending the better part of 2014 working to update the village’s laws regarding business signs, the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission is inviting the public to provide input on the proposed changes at a public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road.
Among the significant changes to the sign code are provisions allowing “blade” signs — the shingle-type signs that hang perpendicularly from the façade of a building — and streamlining the process for approving business sign applications.
No longer would sign applications go before the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval. Rather, those applications would be vetted by the village’s zoning administrator.
In addition, a number of signs have been outlawed in the proposed new code and business owners are given specific time frames for phasing out those prohibited signs. Among the signs prohibited in the proposed code are most flashing signs, electronic readerboard signs, roof signs, signs painted directly on buildings, inflatable signs, pole signs, internally illuminated signs and backlit awnings, box signs.
Any business displaying a prohibited sign will have between two and seven years, depending on original cost of the sign, to change it to a permitted type of sign.
The Planning and Zoning Commission was tasked with re-examining the village’s sign code in the wake of recommendations made in the 2013 comprehensive downtown plan completed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.
In that document, planners stated that the “village should work to achieve a better balance between preservation of the historic design of the commercial streets and promoting local businesses. The village should create a new set of design guidelines that strike this balance and clearly outline expectations.”
Allowing “blade” signs could be the most controversial part of the proposed code, since those kinds of signs have faced resistance in the past, because of their potential for kitsch.
As an illustration of the kind of blade sign that might be appropriate for businesses, CMAP’s central business district plan suggests the signs outside the Riverside Historical Museum and Riverside Public Library.
But, according to Sonya Abt, the village’s community development director, there’s been no pushback on such signs during the Planning and Zoning Commission’s examination of the code.
“No one has spoken out against them,” Abt said.
Business owners have called for the blade signs in order to make their businesses more visible to pedestrians and motorists.
“The ability to look down a street and see what businesses are there is important,’ said Derrick Mancini, owner of Quincy Street Distillery. “In particular for Quincy Street it’s hard to see what businesses are there. There are events that take place less than a block away, and you can’t see anything.”
According to the code, blade signs can only be affixed to the front façade of a building and are limited to 6 square feet in size. However, according to the proposed code, blade signs may only be placed at the ground-floor level of buildings.
Businesses located on the second floor of a building are allowed a blade sign on the ground floor within six feet of the entrance door leading to the business.
Mancini argued for more flexibility with respect to the permitted locations for blade signs.
“A sign above our roofline is the only place where it can be prominently seen,” said Mancini. “Also, if we could put it on the side of our building above the first story, it would be visible from our downtown. But these will be prohibited.”
The proposed code also allows, for the first time, signage on the rear walls of buildings facing the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad right of way. Any business with a rear wall facing the tracks will be allowed one sign up to 25 square feet in size on the second story of the building.
While that’s a good start, said Mancini, by limiting signs facing the tracks to the business occupying a building it’s also a lost opportunity to advertise to train commuters what they can find in downtown Riverside.
“You can advertise other businesses on the street that don’t face the tracks,” Mancini said.