STERLING – Sterling’s sign code took about 2 years to develop and has been on the books for about 2 years. But in the name of economic development, Sterling City Council changed it Monday night.
The City Council voted 5-1 to approve a petition from Sterling Commons Development Inc. to amend city code to allow signs on both sides of a corner business. An ordinance will be drafted that allows for the change in the city’s Highway Business District.
Alderman-At-Large John Stauter was the lone no vote. He said the Planning Commission spent 2 years working on the code and didn’t want to set a precedent and undo what the Planning Commission worked on.
Marvin Keys, general counsel for Sterling Commons Development, said the company was at risk of losing two tenants, Verizon Wireless and Kay Jewelers, if the businesses, which would be located on the corner units of the building at 4204 E. Lincolnway, weren’t allowed two signs.
Verizon’s only opt-out clause in the lease agreement existed for if only one sign was allowed, and Kay Jewelers was waiting on the sign ruling before it signed a lease, Keys said.
On Aug. 19, the city referred the issue to the planning commission, which met Sept. 19 and heard from Keys and city staff. The Planning Commission voted to deny the petition and also recommended, along with city staff, that the City Council deny the petition.
“We’re taking a big step here,” Stauter said. “The Planning Commission spent almost 2 years on this and it’s working well. ... And now you want all this changing, even after that meeting a month ago. It is a real slap in the face to our Planning Commission, that their services are not needed.”
Ward 2 Alderman Barry Cox was the most vocal supporter of allowing the change, pointing toward economic development and increased sales tax that could be lost if the two businesses or others decided to look elsewhere because of the ordinance.
“Retail development pays taxes, pulls in taxes,” he said. “And that actually makes it easier on our citizens of the community. I would much rather see a retail development come to this community and lighten up my [property tax] load on my piece of property.”
Ward 3 Alderman Lou Sotelo initially said he was against the petition, but ultimately voted for it, once it was limited to the Highway Business District and Keys said the changes would allow the two businesses to move forward with their leases.
Prior to the Planning Commission’s overhaul of the city’s signage codes, signs were allowed on two sides of a corner business, just as they are with Aspen Dental, 4312 E Lincolnway, which is located in a building owned by Sterling Commons Development.
“This is what the ordinance permitted before, and it wasn’t ... that having signs on two facades somehow made a rampant problem in the community,” Keys said. “Especially given the fact that the square footage of those signs is limited by what the ordinance has said.” In that particular business district, the maximum size allowed is 225 square feet.
The ordinance will allow for the change in the Highway Business District only, preventing downtown corner business or others in the city to add a second sign.
City Manager Scott Shumard said the city had approved a petition for St. Mary’s Catholic Church after the new sign code was approved.
Also Monday night, the City Council tabled an ordinance that would have redrawn the city’s wards.
The wards were last redrawn in 1982, and annexations to the west side of the city have led to a disproportionate number of residents in Ward 4 – 4,276 residents compared to 3,772 residents in Ward 2, the second largest.
A state statute says that ward boundaries can’t cross precinct boundaries, so the ordinance will be tabled, and there is no timeline for its return to the agenda, Shumard said.
Assistant to city manager accepts new job
Hadley Skeffington-Vos, the assistant to the city manager, has accepted the position of assistant village manager in Niles.
Skeffington-Vos joined the city May 31, 2011, as an intern, and was later hired as a full-time employee. She had worked on several city projects, including Sterling's government day, updating the city's website, and on the Sterling Theater renovations.
The Sterling City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Coliseum, 212 Third Ave.
Go to www.sterling-il.gov or call City Hall at 815-632-6621 for an agenda or more information.