Princeton council tables vote on ban of electronic messaging signs to welcome more input

Council members say they want to hear from businesses regarding the issue

An electronic sign on the edge of the El Guero parking lot tells Jackson Street motorists that the Joliet supermarket will open soon. March 23, 2024.

The Princeton City Council may consider a recommendation banning electronic messaging signs on Main Street from the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe tracks to Boyd Avenue at a future meeting, but the council wants input from businesses that utilize them before taking any action.

The Princeton Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals recommended the ordinance June 11, but the Princeton City Council tabled a June 17 on the first reading of the ordinance to gather more information from the community.

What started as an application for Bean Buzz, 130 N. Main St., to add an electronic messaging sign at its business, resulted in a much larger discussion among the Plan Commission whether electronic messaging signs should be allowed on Main Street at all, City Clerk Emeritus and Zoning Administrator Emeritus Pete Nelson said.

The 2016 comprehensive plan and the 2020 Main Street Revitalization Plan said electronic messaging signs detract from the historic nature of Main Street, Nelson said. The Plan Commission believed instead of wasting time and money on applications for electronic messaging signs in the future, it should ban them altogether. Existing signs would be grandfathered in and be allowed to remain, until a replacement is sought, then a new sign would not be allowed to be erected.

Under current code, businesses must get a special use permit before putting up an electronic messaging sign outside of some commercial districts where they are allowed.

Nelson said homeowners who live near businesses seeking electronic signs made a compelling argument to the Plan Commission. Rezoning Main Street to accommodate businesses looking to erect electronic messaging signs was met with disapproval from residents in that area at a recent Plan Commission meeting, because rezoning would open the door to other businesses that would change the character of their neighborhoods, they said. The Plan Commission opted not to rezone North Main Street from Putnam to Farnham streets as a result.

Mayor Ray Mabry recommended tabling the discussion to the first meeting in July, because he wanted the council to get it right. He said the extra time will allow the council to take in feedback from local businesses who utilize the electronic signs.

“I personally put one in 10 years ago that’s in front of my business, and I’d be a hypocrite if I vote for this ordinance, then I’d better go take my sign down,” Mabry said.

The mayor also pointed out the city of Princeton has an electronic messaging sign near the fire station.

“We’d want to set the example, so that sign would go bye-bye in my opinion,” Mabry said. “Because if we’re asking other people to do something, we’d better set the example up front.”

Council member Michael McCall said he’d like to find a middle ground on the issue and hear from the business community before voting on the matter. Council member Martin Makransky said he would like to see what other options are available, because he’d be in favor of having them, as long as the council can find a way for them not to be restrictive. Council member Jerry Neumann said the city could put out a notice on its Facebook page to get word out among the community, because it’s important for the business community to know what’s being considered. Council member Hector Gomez said business needs should be considered because they generate revenue for the community and create jobs.

Council members acknowledged they have to weigh the historic appearance of the downtown versus the value an electronic messaging sign brings to a business in helping them attract customers.

“This is a good catalyst to get everyone talking about it,” Neumann said.

“We don’t want it to look like Vegas, for sure, that’s a little too much lights,” Gomez added. “But we want it to be something everyone can agree on.”

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