Say good-bye to the old-fashioned billboard facing east on the Desplaines Avenue/Eisenhower Expressway. It’s going digital.
Its sister board, the electronic one facing west, won’t be left behind. It’s getting an upgrade.
The changes come after the Forest Park Village Council freed the way Clear Channel, which leases the billboards from Chicago-based J&B Signs, to replace the analog billboard with a modern version and to upgrade the existing digital billboard. That design goes back to 2006. They sit on a small patch of land at 732 Desplaines Ave.
The smooth approval, which involved a zoning change, sits in stark contrast to a similar request 17 years ago by the same company.
At the time, digital advertising was still in its infancy and village officials had concerns that the design would be distracting to drivers. The controversy culminated in a lawsuit that resulted in a settlement. It requires the village to approve any changes in ownership and gave the village the right to display public service announcements.
In this case, the land near the Eisenhower Expressway exit ramp at Desplaines Avenue was zoned B-1, with billboards allowed as a conditional use. But in recent years, the zoning code changed to only allow them in industrial districts. Clear Channel’s plans would change the billboard enough that it would no longer be grandfathered in.
Last Tuesday, the council approved a zoning change and Clear Channel’s conditional-use application, clearing the way for construction.
Both signs will use LED technology and automatic dimmers so it will seem less bright farther away and won’t consume quite as much energy as the current digital sign.
According to the application, the new signs “will only display static, non-moving images” that will automatically change every 10 seconds. The new digital sign also will be able to display public service announcements.
But things weren’t so easy 17 years ago.
Any changes to the billboards on the highway require permits from both the Illinois Department of Transportation and the local municipality. In 2005, J&B set out to add a digital billboard — a relatively new technology at the time — below the existing billboard. It obtained the IDOT permit in late 2005, and, according to the lawsuit, it got “written and verbal authorizations” from the village on Jan. 24, 2006. Over the next month, it built the sign and on Feb. 24, the lights went on.
The lawsuit states that while the village took no issue with the sign in March 2006, by April 2, village employees turned off the sign and posted a stop-work order.
The Review reported that in late June 2006, J&B went before the Forest Park Zoning Board of Appeals to get permission to operate a digital sign. The zoning board recommended denying the request, saying they had issues with the design and worried that it would distract the drivers. The village council concurred and ordered J&B to remove the digital billboard “immediately.”
In July 2006, the sign company sued the village, claiming that the village had no right to shut down the billboard and demanded damages for potentially causing it to lose “at least $17,000 a month” in advertising revenue.
A little more than two years later, the two sides reached a settlement. The village agreed to let J&B put up a digital billboard facing west, on the other side of the existing billboard. The sign company agreed to let the village use the billboard for public service announcements for up to seven hours a month, with each ad running up to seven consecutive days. The settlement would remain in force for any future site tenant and owner.