October 18, 2021

Prairie Grove business owners express concerns about sign ordinance

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PRAIRIE GROVE – Jack Shields has had to wait weeks to be considered for a permit to put temporary signs outside of his Prairie Grove business, Jax Auto & Tire.

However, just down the street, a Crystal Lake Chrysler-Jeep dealership – which sits in Prairie Grove village limits – has several colored balloons and flag signs displayed.

Some Prairie Grove business owners want the village to change its sign ordinance, claiming that the rules are archaic and hurt their businesses, but Village Board members said they aren’t ready to act.

The problem was expected to be discussed at the most recent Village Board meeting, but the item was removed from the agenda at the beginning of the meeting because board members said there was not enough time to discuss the matter as a group, and they didn’t think residents had been invited to voice their opinions.

As it stands, the 43-page ordinance prohibits signs, including inflatable signs, pennants, flashing signs, obscene signs, off-premise signs, any electronic message center sign, vehicle signs, moving signs, portable signs, traffic signs and billboards, among others.

Businesses are allowed to display temporary signs if there’s a special event or promotion, according to the ordinance. Temporary signs can be displayed two times a year for no more than 30 days each time. To get a variance, business owners have to pay a fee, apply and then go before the board during a meeting for its approval.

Shields, whose business is off Route 31, said he has come across problems with the sign ordinances since Jax Auto & Tire opened in April 2016. Before his business opened, Shields said he had a “Coming soon” banner made, and shortly after he placed it on his building, he received a call from the village asking him to take it down because he did not have a permit.

Since then, he has had to request short-term variances to place four banners on the two buildings on his property. Without the banners in place, Shields said he would lose a significant amount of business.

“Temporary signage is all about impulse buying. … People call about the banners all the time,” he said.

If things don’t change soon, Shields said he has considered leaving Prairie Grove.

Prairie Grove Trustee David Underwood, who made the motion to remove the sign ordinance matter from the agenda, said a majority of the board didn’t feel enough time had been taken to discuss and analyze the problem.

He said Village President David Robak let the board know less than three weeks in advance that he invited business owners to discuss what direction the village wanted to take moving forward.

Underwood also said he wanted to ensure that residents had the opportunity to express their opinions because he felt only one side of the problem was in attendance. He said he wants to be able to vote on the matter knowing the thoughts and opinions of both sides.

“The ordinances were written in a way to strike a balance between the interests of the businesses and the residents who live there,” Underwood said. “If the community as a whole decides that certain types of signage should be allowed, then that’s that.”

Robak said the village is working on updating and modernizing the sign problem, but added that it needs to balance the interests of residents and business owners.

“We’re a rural community, so it’s hard to put up signs and be flashy,” Robak said. “It doesn’t always fit with the demeanor in the town.”

The Chrysler-Jeep dealership near Jax Auto & Tire is able to display flags and balloons because the business was annexed to the village with special conditions when it moved to the area.

Trustee Michael Breseman said he believes businesses are not taking advantage of legal advertisement opportunities.

“It’s not the village of Prairie Grove against businesses,” Breseman said. “At the end of the day, what they wanted was just signage on the cheap.”

Gianelli’s Drive-thru owners Debra Petersen and Paul Koyanagi said the ordinance has affected their ability to advertise specials and deals going on at their business. Gianelli’s, located in Prairie Grove off Route 176, was granted a temporary variance that allows it to have otherwise prohibited signs on the property. The business has been in the village since December 2014.

Petersen said the variance expired July 25. The business owners almost immediately were visited by the Prairie Grove Police Department and eventually ticketed because their signs had not been taken down.

Since the signs have been taken down, sales are down by about 22 percent to 28 percent.

“We’ve gotten less walk-in business – signs attract new customers,” Petersen said. “People can’t tell exactly what we have by just driving by our building.”

Koyanagi said the ordinances were written when commercial industry essentially was nonexistent in Prairie Grove, and things have changed since then. He said they decided to open their business on Route 176 because he thought they’d get a lot of business from the consistent traffic in the area.

“When you can’t turn the heads of the traffic, that’s detrimental to businesses,” he said.

The next Village Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 15 at Prairie Grove Village Hall, 3125 Barreville Road. Business owners from Gianelli’s and Jax Auto & Tire have since applied for another variance and hope to have the matter heard at the upcoming meeting.