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.