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Board Votes Office Depot Signs Must Comply with City Regulations

Evanston residents living near Office Depot got their wish when the Sign Review and Appeals Board voted that the company had to construct their signs within City regulations. But some worry that the decision could drive the company out of town.

Evanston’s Sign Review and Appeals Board voted Thursday that two proposed signs for the city’s recently-renovated must comply with city regulations.

In the , the board unanimously decided that strict standards set forth in the city code prevented them from granting Office Depot the right to construct a sign which exceeded city limitations for overall height.

Though the board did not specify which standards the proposed signs violated, neighbors repeatedly accused Office Depot of ignoring portions that called for the company to prove the variations were a unique hardship, did not harm public welfare, and were not self-created.

Board member Thomas Keith said that it came down to the letter of the law, but said that Evanston’s sign regulations may be too restrictive.

“The deciding factor was the way that the sign regulations were written,” Keith said. “I saw no problem giving them an extra 11 inches on the east side [sign], for instance. But the way the regulations are written, our hands are tied. In other cases, the regulations have not been interpreted quite as conservatively and quite as literally.”

Office Depot’s most recent designs sought an illuminated, eastward-facing sign reaching 16 feet 5 inches and a lamp-lit, northward-facing sign extending to either 21 feet or 21 feet 6 inches. The company also provided board-requested, code-compliant designs for signs that topped out at the city’s 15-foot-6-inch limit.

Evanstonian Randy Otte, who has been campaigning against the proposed signs for over two months, said he was pleased with the decision and thought that the code-compliant signs would be more practical and just as effectual.

“I think that a sign is all about effective communication,” Otte said, “and in this case, being site specific, it didn’t matter what height it was. In fact, when it’s more at eye level, you can see it better when it’s lower, not higher up.”

However, Richard Schulte said he worried that the board’s decision might drive Office Depot and other business away from the city.

“I’m afraid that if we hassle or harass Office Depot, that maybe they’ll just leave,” Schulte said. “Two days ago I walked through downtown, and I walked by Carmen’s Pizza and I saw the eviction sign there. And I walked by Borders and I saw the empty spaces…Evanston has an economic problem.”

While Office Depot representatives have repeatedly stated that the company likes doing business in Evanston, the store has tentative offers to move elsewhere.

James Koch, an attorney for Office Depot, said that Edens Plaza and Plaza del Lago, both located in Wilmette, have contacted the company, expressing interest in opening one of the chain’s stores should the Evanston location close.

“They and some other communities are aggressively trying to get Office Depot to go there,” Koch said. “I don’t want in any way to suggest that this is sort of, ‘we’ll take our ball and go home.’... But we need to do what we can to be viable and visible.”

Koch said Office Depot will likely appeal the board’s ruling. To do so, the company will have to file an appeal within 10 days. If Evanston’s Planning and Development Committee chooses to accept the appeal, the decision will be presented to and voted on by the City Council.

Richard Schulte July 20, 2011 at 03:27 AM
Mr. Caldwell, thank you for doing some research. However, before we assume that your research is correct, perhaps it would be best to verify with Office Depot since that's where the original $300 thousand figure comes from. I can't think of any reason why Office Depot would want to inflate the figure since the property taxes that they pay can easily be verified. Of course, in addition to the property taxes, Evanston also gets a share of the sales taxes generated at the store. And, Office Depot pays other taxes on its employees. In other words, it's more than just the property taxes which are at stake here. Vacant buildings are a nuisance. If that's what Evanston prefers, vacant buildings, I'm sure many business will be more than happy to leave. Based upon what I see, Evanston is a dying city. Oh well, after 28 years living in the city, I'm moving to Florida. 0 percent state income tax there. Good roads, nice people and beautiful beaches that stretch for 20 miles and the cost of living is much lower than here. Not much of a winter either. Evanston is having trouble competing and its citizens don't seem smart enough to understand that prosperous businesses are good for the community. There is a term for that, it's called "stuck on stupid". The exodus out of Chicago has already started-the population is the same as it was in the 1920's. The exodus out of Illinois started when the legislature passed the income tax increase. Oh well. . .
Richard Schulte July 20, 2011 at 03:29 AM
To quote Forrest Gump: "Stupid is as stupid does."
Richard Schulte July 20, 2011 at 03:37 AM
I guess it's the only way for the State of Illinois to keep companies from leaving the state. Companies have to be bribed to stay. Doesn't say much for Illinois, does it? States with Republican governors and Republican legislatures don't have that problem. We had an opportunity to have a good governor-98 out of 102 counties voted for Bill Brady, but we got stuck with a loser because of the vote in Crook County. Now we have to suffer with Governor Quinn. Blago was a better governor-at least he knew not to raise the state income tax.
Lori Keenan July 21, 2011 at 03:03 PM
mij - yes, Wilmette is with one "L" and 'You're' is the proper contraction of You are, not Your, as you used in several of your posts. "Your probably correct." is not correct. And "signs took far to long" -- I think you meant "too long" My point being, it's so easy to nit-pick and cyber-rant, and so much harder to actually organize, step up and ask that our City follow the rules. I applaud the neighbors who urged COE to do just that on this issue.
mij July 22, 2011 at 02:19 AM
As the saying goes "Empty Barrels Make the Most Noise"

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