Residents: Electronic Signs Could Mean the Difference Between 'Mayberry and Las Vegas'

Commission wants more input from the community as it looks to tweak the zoning code.

Elmhurst residents have until March 8 to give the city their opinion on electronic signs in residential neighborhoods.

A Planning and Zoning Commission public workshop Thursday provided some feedback from residents, but city staff want more—not just opinions on these kinds of signs but also ideas on how the zoning code could be updated to reflect the community's needs and wishes.

“We're at the point where ... (the current code) is not going to work anymore,” Planning and Zoning Administrator Than Werner told the audience.

While Thursday's meeting was not meant to address one specific situation, the discussion was prompted last year when Redeemer Lutheran Church requested a 7-by-3-foot electronic sign on its property at 345 S. Kenilworth Ave.

The Zoning and Planning Commission unanimously approved the request in May, but after much controversy and a legal opinion, in August the city's Development, Planning and Zoning Committee decided to recommend denial of the request. The request has not yet been voted on by the full City Council, and the ZPC is considering changes to the code.

Werner gave residents an overview of how the current code developed, including the recent city attorney's opinion that electronic signs are not included in the definition of what is allowed in residential areas. However, prior to that opinion, these signs had been approved as conditional uses for institutions in residential areas, including signs at Visitation Church and York Commons Park.

In June 2008, language was modified to stipulate that when sign changes are shown at five second intervals or more, they must be displayed in amber text on a black background “without scrolling, flashing, or other movements between text messages.”

Electronic signs are permitted in commercial and industrial areas as long as they meet other code requirements, such as size and height.

Many residents were clear as to what they want the city to do: ban electronic signs in all residential areas. They said they were concerned the signs would proliferate and make the city less attractive. One resident likened the situation to a choice between Elmhurst looking like “Mayberry or Las Vegas.”

Jim Hauser, a resident of St. Charles Road, was concerned about property values and safety.

“There are so many accidents right on my corner,” he said.

But other residents either spoke in favor of the signs or said there was room for compromise.

Scott Stiegemeyer of Cedar Avenue said not all residential districts are the same. Some include frontage on busy streets where electronic signage might be warranted, he said.

Residents are invited to send their suggestions and comments to Than Werner at than.werner@elmhurst.org.


  • Signs of Stress: Church Neighbors Say Electronic Sign Would Detract from Character of Neighborhood
  • Committee Says Redeemer Lutheran's Request for Electronic Reader Board Sign Should be Rejected

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Mike Worrell February 22, 2013 at 03:17 PM
People need to realize that these signs will continue to get more and more advanced and affordable, and it won't be long until most businesses will be able to use what are essentially television screens for signage. There has to be a line drawn somewhere/sometime, so it might as well be drawn now.
Jim Court February 22, 2013 at 03:35 PM
Anything that provides information is always a positive. I realize that tradition has value yet at the same time modernism often has advantages. I do not wish to be a "Mayberry" with a complete lack of sophistication nor does the idea of a garish Las Vegas seem appropriate. It has long been my hope that Elmhurst continues to attract the best and the brightest. We are moving in that direction and I am glad for it. I would be quite happy to see us become the beat among communities. I once mentioned that electronic signs could be installed by the Robert Palmer underpass. This would be much less expensive than the current method of city employees wiring signs in place. Advertising could also be sold if it was done with class. Revenue could be achieved. This location is only visible to those traveling the road and signage on the walls would not visually clutter the landscape. Than Werner is a great guy who ads much to this city. From what I can tell he does an. excellent job. I wish Elmhurst was a little more flexible about development. I once proposed a cluster of five homes to be built into a cul- de- sac which would have used undeveloped land and added to our tax rolls. This is done is Wheaton but Elmhurst does not seem to want to generally deviate from the grid style of neighborhood and linear development. Elmhurst flatly said it could not be done. What a shame. I don't know who is responsible for these type of decisions. Does anybody know?
Jim Court February 22, 2013 at 03:36 PM
Mike, I do understand your legitimate concern for excessive visual clutter.
Tracy Ries February 22, 2013 at 06:42 PM
The issue was electronic signs being displayed in residentially zoned neightborhoods. When looking at a map, I believe the number was that potentially 60 electronic signs could be placed in residential areas if allowed. There have been some signs allowed by zoning and these could be grandfathered in without opening up the possibility of electronics signs throughout residential areas. Allowing such signage, as pointed out at the meeting, could be a property value issue, aesthetic issue, safety issue, etc. It seemed the majority of attendees were against electronic signs in residential neighborhoods.
Live On Olive February 22, 2013 at 09:19 PM
The picture says many good things about Elmhurst. On the right is a dedicated City staff member Nathaniel Werner. In the middle is a dedicated Chairman Darrell Whister. On the left is a dedicated City Commissioner Alan Brinkmeier. In the center see a whole room full of people in City Hall that care about their City. I think the picture says a thousand words of good about Elmhurst. This signs concern will be worked out. But know that many in Elmhurst care about what Elmhurst is about. The care for Elmhurst is what the picture shows.
Jim Hauser February 22, 2013 at 10:44 PM
After hearing all of the pro and con arguments surrounding the Redeemer Lutheran sign,in particular, it becomes clear as to what the issues really are. On the pro side, Redeemer gets a more prominent, high visibility advertising forum. On the con side, there are concerns of property devaluation due to the sign being inappropriate in a residential neighborhood, as well as valid safety concerns. I live on Saint Charles Road directly across the street from where the sign would be placed, and I can absolutely state that there are already NUMEROUS accidents on this corner. A high visibility electronic sign in this dangerous location could only serve as further distraction to drivers, and would very likely result in additional accidents. The residents of this neighborhood feel as though Redeemer is not being a good neighbor by ignoring our concerns and by continuing to push for this sign that none one else wants, which can only result in further ill will. With so little benefit to the community and so many downsides, it seems to fall under the "three strikes and you're out" rule. If the valid concerns of the neighborhood residents can't be adequately addressed, then this sign should not be allowed, and an overhaul of electronic signage ordinances in Elmhurst should be implemented to put these types of issues to rest for future applications.
Jim B February 22, 2013 at 11:56 PM
Nicely written LOO. Not very common for the Patch. Thanks,
Jim Court February 23, 2013 at 03:32 PM
Live on Olive Very well stated and so very true. Jim B. What is your perspective about the general content and tone of those who comment on the Patch?
Live On Olive February 23, 2013 at 05:44 PM
Mr. Court I believe the majority of these comments are more negative than necessary. For those that want to keep things and never improve, remember with that attitude we'd all still be living in caves, huts, or log cabins, or (you get the idea) I have always loved this as a favorite quote. "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." George Bernard Shaw
Ercie Berwick February 24, 2013 at 12:54 AM
I dislike electronic signs to begin with but I realize that it is sometimes necessary to have them here, there, or wherever. But in residential areas? Puhleeeeeez!
Jim Court February 24, 2013 at 03:08 AM
As a big fan of philosophical quotations that makes us think and remind us of many different perspectives and thoughts, I think could be a positive if they were simply somewhat subdued, not overly bright, and placed nicely with architectural appeal. The electronic versions are not much different than the hand placed lettering by some of the Churches on North ave. The Church at North ave. and West ave. has long had some very clever, challenging, and inspirational messages that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Electronic displays can be changed more frequently and have greater flexibility. We seem to survive the excesses of campaign signage. I love technology and believes it has a place. I don't want Elmhurst to look gaudy or cheesy and share that concern. Perhaps a conditional use permit that allows enough time to reasonably defray expenditures and then could be reviewed. If largely deemed inappropriate then the sign would eventually and in a reasonable time, be removed. I must admit I like the York Theatre sign. It creates an aliveness and energy to the downtown area. Different subject but wouldn't have been nice if Elmhurst could have cheaply seeded the Hahn street area and created a perhaps temporary green gathering space and hold centralized events. I would also encourage tax abatement's to every less than appealing home along all major thoroughfares that would make a very visual and bold statement about Elmhurst. Curb appeal in the extreme.
Jim Hauser February 28, 2013 at 09:20 PM
I absolutely agree that progress is important. I'm the first one to embrace new technologies, however we need to keep in mind the appropriateness of using certain technologies for certain applications. There is a comment below regarding the electronic sign at the York Theatre. It is a GREAT use for this type of sign, and adds value, not only to the theater, but provides a nice atmosphere downtown, thereby benefitting the community, as well. It is totally appropriate in this setting. But what works in this location may NOT work in an all-residential neighborhood. The nearest business to the Redeemer site is at least a 1/2 mile in any direction--it is a residential neighborhood! I know that a theater sign is a far cry from the sign that Redeemer is proposing, however my point is that the use of this particular technology in this particular location is not suitable to its surroundings, and brings no value or benefit to the neighborhood or to the community.
Live On Olive April 07, 2013 at 09:19 PM
Mr. Court The incumbents have had the chance. Go for change. I still believe the majority of these comments are more negative than necessary. Let' vote for change. All incumbents out. New ideas in. Vote Kolb in 5th. Baker in 4th, Mueller in 7th Ennis on Parks and anyone but Collins on schools.
Jim Court April 07, 2013 at 10:55 PM
It should be about who will serve the best interest of our community. That is what matters most.
Jim Court April 08, 2013 at 03:47 AM
Many of the incumbents did a very good job. Mike Bram definitely comes to mind.


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