Historically, North Riverside has been very loose when it comes to regulating signs, which is how the village got a giant flashing billboard at the corner of Cermak Road and First Avenue back in the day.

There have been other generous sign allowances as well – for Tony’s (before they skipped town for the greener pastures of Berwyn) and more recently for Robert Houpy, who owns the strip mall at the corner of Cermak Road and Desplaines Avenue.

While the sign the North Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission approved is still plenty big – its 306 square feet of gross sign area exceeds the code by 246 square feet – it could have been bigger. Houpy originally asked for the sign to be 25 feet tall (as approved, it’s 17.5 feet).

In 2021, the village tightened up its sign code to begin downsizing signs and making them more uniform. That monument sign at Cermak and Desplaines could only be 8-feet tall if the property owner applied again to replace it.

The same code applies to the property at 26th Street and First Avenue, which Houpy also owns and for which he is again seeking variations from the code for a new sign. In a letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission from his attorney, Houpy argues that he will suffer financial hardship if he is not allowed to replace the existing pole sign, which the code no longer allows, with a more visible pole sign of roughly the same size.

It has to be 12.5 feet tall, he argues, in order to get the attention of truck drivers who frequent the gambling establishment he operates on that property. The code allows the sign to be 8 feet tall, which it is claimed could be obscured in bad weather events. 

We’re not sure how, in the event of 8-foot snow drifts, anyone will be out gambling, but in any case, hardships in a zoning sense aren’t caused by hypothetical weather or the height of truck cabs.

Hardships are caused by unique characteristics of a property that make it so different from other such properties that relief from the zoning code must be allowed in order to make any encroachment or sign or whatever possible.

In this case, by right, the owner can erect an illuminated 8-foot-tall sign at the only commercial corner of a state highway – where there’s also a stoplight – to attract customers. We’re sure such a sign would be plenty visible to any motorist.

Indeed, the sign there now – still too tall but really kind of unassuming – hasn’t stood in the way of the business there making a profit.

During the first quarter of 2023, in just the second year of the gambling parlor’s operation, it ranked No. 2 in net terminal revenue out of all the other video gambling locations in North Riverside. 

No. 1 was Houpy’s other gambling parlor at Cermak and Desplaines.

The truth here is that the “hardship” is inconvenience. To get zoning variances, that’s just not good enough.