City Council OKs reprieve for two Naperville billboards

Naperville City Council Tuesday granted an 18-month reprieve for a pair of non-conforming billboards on the corner of Ogden Avenue and Rickert Drive.

The biggest is 672 square feet.

“Many local businesses rent those signs,” attorney Kathy West said while making the case for her client. “They must help local businesses.”

Simply Hair Salon and Renewal Spa is owned and operated by Frances “Dolly” Long near the corner. Long signed a 20-year annexation agreement with the city in 1994. The agreement involved her granting land to Naperville for the $9.3 million western bypass project designed to ease traffic congestion by expanding Ogden and connecting Rickert to Book Road.

She wasn’t compensated for the land, but the annexation agreement allowed her to keep two non-conforming billboard signs on the property.

But the annexation agreement was for 20 years, which expired June 7, and leaving the billboards in violation of city code. So she took her case to City Council, looking for an additional seven years on the agreement.

West stressed that Long depends on revenue from the signs, especially since the effects of the 2008 economic downturn continue to linger, saying that “she’s just starting to recover.”

While there was general agreement on granting Long some extra time on the agreement, there was also disagreement among City Council members over how much time she should get, and whether the city or Long was responsible for keeping track of the details of the annexation agreement.

“She gave up some land to us,” Councilman Doug Krause said. “We didn’t notify her a year in advance … we need to give a little additional time.”

The city did tell Long about the expiration of the agreement on April 9, but Krause didn’t think that was adequate notification, saying that “in the real world, things don’t work that way.”

Council member Grant Wehrli said that business owners should be responsible for knowing and complying with legal agreements involving their business.

“It is not our responsibility to give notice,” he said.

Councilman Dave Wentz agreed.

“If I know something is expiring, and there’s a deadline, I would apply for an extension before the deadline happened,” he said.

Council member Bob Fieseler said that the city has granted a lot of exceptions to help people during the economic downturn. As far as the billboards, Fieseler said that he drives past them every day.

“I don’t even notice them,” he said.

He said he hasn’t received any citizen complaints about the billboards.

Councilwoman Judith Brodhead noted the high number of cell phone towers in the immediate area.

“I think that they are in some ways more noticeable,” she said.

The proposal of a 30-month extension on the agreement didn’t sit well with some City Council members.

Councilman Joe McElroy said he wouldn’t approve anything longer than one year and even Krause, who strongly defended Long’s request, thought the request for seven years was too much.

“Not seven years,” he said. “There’s no way we can give seven years.”

The City Council finally approved an extension through Dec. 31, 2015, with Wentz, McElroy and Paul Hinterlong dissenting.

“Everything’s temporary again,” Hinterlong said. “It’s just not fair.”

Long walked away from the proceedings generally satisfied.

“I’m just trying to do the right thing to get it extended,” she said.

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