Just a few months ago, the village of Riverside approved a sign for the new Fiore Gourmet Bakery. At the same time, the village’s Planning and Zoning Commission was working on an update to its sign code, which would outlaw the type of sign the village just approved for the business.

Similarly, the village recently OK’d replacing the wall sign over at Metal Mites, a body shop on East Quincy Street. The proposed new sign code says that sign is too big and needs to come down. Of course, the existing code already says the sign is too big, oh, and that there can only be one wall sign, not two. Yet, the village apparently gave the OK to the signs.

The existing code also already outlaws pole signs, yet the village continues to allow them to exist. By the way, the existing code has had a phase-out provision for non-conforming signs since 2005. It’s never been enforced.

So, business owners who already have or will have non-conforming signs once the new sign code is adopted were understandably upset that the village now says it will begin to enforce the schedule that calls for phasing out their non-conforming signs — even ones the village has recently said were OK.

Clearly there needs to be some middle ground here. While there ought to be clear controls on what kinds of signs are going to be allowed in the village moving forward, the village itself has been responsible for allowing its existing code to go unenforced.

If the village wants to ensure a particular “look” for the downtown area, then it is going to have to make sure it is consistent with respect to approving signs moving forward. It will also have to be vigilant in policing businesses that test the limits of the ordinance (we’re think of the flashing “open” sign and chasing lights that used to frame a window at the now-shuttered Riverside Wine and Spirits on Harlem Avenue).

There may be some kinds of signs that the village might want to grandfather and there may need to be some tweaks to the new code to make sure that appropriate signs (like those at Metal Mites and Riverside Garage) aren’t made non-conforming due to an arbitrary choice regarding sign square-footage.

And if there are signs that the village truly does not want to encourage — the internally lit box signs come to mind as a style specifically called out last week at the village board meeting — then perhaps the village can aid those businesses in changing their signs, which were erected in good faith with the blessing of the village.

It’s a sign replacement program that would target a very small number of signs, so it shouldn’t be too costly for the village to put together a cost-sharing program over a short number of years to replace those kinds of signs. 

For example, if a business wants the village’s help, it must replace the sign within two or three years. After that the sign must be replaced at the owner’s full expense within five years.

It’s at least worth exploring.