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updated: 9/18/2012 10:19 PM

McHenry County puts moratorium on electronic billboards

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The McHenry County Board established a moratorium Tuesday night on issuing permits for electronic billboards, heeding requests from several municipalities.

In the last few weeks, Algonquin, Crystal Lake, Lakewood and Lake in the Hills asked the county to stop issuing permits for such billboards until the county's new rules -- expected to be more restrictive under a unified development ordinance -- are put in place.

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Board member Peter Merkel called the billboards "an eyesore" disliked by residents. "When they see this thing pop up, they're calling us (and saying), 'How did you let this happen?'" he said.

Board member John Hammerand said that during a trip last year to Alabama, the billboards were so bright it was hard to see vehicles' left-turn signals.

Opponents of electronic billboards say they decrease property values, cause accidents from distracted drivers, and contribute to light pollution. Last month, Crystal Lake annexed some land to prevent an electronic sign from being placed just outside the city limits; Lakewood held a special meeting Tuesday nightto discuss a similar measure.

County board member Barbara Wheeler was among those who voted against the moratorium, for which the board waived a 30-day review period. The moratorium will be in place until April 17 or until the unified ordinance is adopted.

"Illinois is not known as being a business-friendly state," and the moratorium would only add to that perception, board member Barbara Wheeler said. She also questioned claims that the billboards are unsafe for drivers. "Let's call a rose a rose, I believe this is about beautification."

Others who voted "no" were board members Marc Munaretto, Ersel Schuster, Bob Bless, Randall Donley, Mary Donner, Sue Draffkorn and Anna May Miller.

Algonquin President John Schmitt said he's pleased about the moratorium but wished it had happened sooner. The moratorium came too late to stop the recent approval of a permit for an electronic sign at 1203 W. Algonquin Road, just outside the village limits.

"I wish that the moratorium had been done without us having to move on it since the UDO (unified development ordinance) is already on the table. I think they could have put a moratorium themselves," he said. "This is poor planning."

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