The Riverside Village Board put the brakes on a plan to update the village code governing business signs and may ship the matter back to the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission for one more tweak before changing the code.

At the heart of the issue was a sense that it might be unfair to mandate that current businesses change non-conforming signage that has been allowed to exist by the village, despite a village code that for years outlawed many types of existing signs and required them to be phased out.

“In a situation where you had a period of since at least 2005 where the village is either explicitly or tacitly allowing signs that are non-conforming, to then expect a business to, out of their own pocket, go back and conform that sign to the new code seems to me manifestly unfair,” Village President Ben Sells said.

The sign code passed in 2005 outlawed certain signs, such as pole signs, and required them to be phased out over a period of years. But that never happened. In fact, businesses were allowed to replace non-conforming signs during that time, according to officials.

In the updated sign code proposed by the Planning and Zoning Commission, even more signs are outlawed, including illuminated box signs, such as those at Sylvester Realty, Sticky Worldwide and Salon Elia; internally illuminated letter signs, such as the one at Riverside Foods; and “raceway” signs, such as the one erected just months ago at Fiore Gourmet Bakery. The proposed update also decreased the size of wall-plate signs, such as the ones on Metal Mites and Riverside Garage and shortened the phase out of non-conforming signs from seven years to five.

Several of the business owners who would have been affected by the changes asked the village board to grandfather in existing signs, which were erected with the blessing of the village in the past.

“My sign’s been up for 31 years,” said Rick Rovella, owner of Riverside Garage at 18 East Ave. “I think it kind of fits the building. We’re all trying to make our businesses look as good as we can with what we can afford.”

Cindy Splingaire, co-owner of Jeff’s Auto at 20 E. Quincy St., said her business has had a pole sign on the property since at least the day she and her husband bought the land 24 years ago. In reality, a pole sign has been there probably since the 1930s.

Olga Sylvester, owner of Sylvester Realty at 5 E. Burlington St., said that business owners followed the rules when they purchased their signs. If the village wants to change the rules, she said, it should help pay for the cost.

“If you don’t like our signs, the village might want to participate in the cost of getting them changed,” Sylvester said.

Several trustees expressed interest in grandfathering in existing signs and also creating a fund to assist business owners with changes to non-conforming signs. A couple of trustees, such as Doug Pollock and Jean Sussman, argued that the village ought to establish a timeline for the phase out of non-conforming signs, even if the village has to lengthen the time for doing so.

“It’s reasonable to come up with a program to get this code implemented,” said Pollock, who singled out internally lit box signs as needing to go. “I’d like to see us establish an end-date when signs have to be brought into conformance, so we know that at some point the quality of the signs will match the investment the village is making in the downtown.”

Trustee Michael Foley, meanwhile, suggested tabling the sign code update until the village has completed its renovation of East Burlington Street, which will take place in 2015.

“We’re embarking on a project that will change the look of the village,” Foley said. “When the project is complete we can step back and look at it. We don’t know; we haven’t created it yet.”

But Sussman and Sells argued that the sign code ought to be in place when Burlington Street is complete, so that any new businesses and existing businesses know what the rules are from the start.

The village board will again discuss the proposed code at its meeting scheduled for Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road. At that point, the board may ask the Planning and Zoning Commission to reconsider specific elements of the code, such as area limitations on wall signs, raceway signs and internally illuminated individual letter signs.

The board may also come to an agreement on grandfathering in existing signs or in finding ways to phase them out without severely impacting business owners’ pocketbooks.

“There’s no rush on this,” Sells said.