Large outdoor sign permits denied in Wicker Park historic districts


Beige area is location for proposed Damen sign*

Permits for outdoor advertisement signage space proposed on two different buildings in the Wicker Park Historic District and the Milwaukee Avenue District went before Chicago's Permit Review Committee in City Hall, late afternoon, Thurs., Jan. 10. They were denied. 

Sites and signs
Placement of two offsite advertising signs was negotiated as a settlement in two lawsuits against the City of Chicago in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Buildings at 1537 N Damen Ave. and 1418 N. Milwaukee Ave. were targeted as a "home" for installation of large vinyl signs flush-mounted to the exterior walls by two outdoor advertising companies. 

The Damen location applicant is 365 Outdoor, LLC, (365) and the Milwaukee applicant is Project Outdoor, LLC.

The original permit for 365, approved by Chicago's City Council was for a larger sign than their current proposal of 34 foot by 17 foot (578 square feet) sign, as well as other signs at other locations. Subsequently the approved ordinances were repealed and became the basis of a lawsuit. 


Black area is proposed location for the 1418 N. Milwaukee Ave. sign*

Negotiations for the settlements were handled by Nick Ftikas, Law Offices of Samuel V.P. Banks, on behalf of both applicants, and Amanda Basil on behalf of the City. According to Basil, she worked with many people including those in the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), Building Department, Mayor's office and City Council in coming to this agreement. 

Emily Barton, DPD, Bureau of Planning, Historic Preservation and Sustainability, explained that when Landmarks' staff reviews the appropriateness of a new sign, the commission considers:

  • Compatibility of the size, height, location, design, materials and lighting with historic architectural character of the building and district
  • Historic location of signs on the building type
  • Consideration of preventing visual clutter on the building and within the district 

While the Damen wall had a painted sign in the past, no permit was found. Thus, Landmark Staff recommended approval because it was a special circumstance in a legal settlement and the location was on a secondary elevation. For the same reason, they also supported the permit for the Milwaukee sign.

While each permit was presented, opposed and voted on separately, the comments and actions were close to duplicates. 

The often outspoken Mr. George Blakemore chastised the Commission, at the well-attended meeting, for agreeing to allow the proposed signage. Four others addressed why placing these signs in a historic landmark district was not acceptable. 

Paul Dickman, representing the Wicker Park Committee (WPC), said that the signs added to the visual clutter of the Districts and their sizes and locations detracted from the rest of the District. He pointed out that WPC voted completely against these signs. 

Ted Varndell, resident and property owner in the Wicker Park District, stated that allowing the large vinyl sign at these locations would be contrary to the Secretary of the Interior's standards for historic properties, particularly for the choice of materials. In fact, he said, the Secretary advises removal of signage based on materials.   

He went on to say that they were deleterious to the protected streetscape and set a dangerous precedence not just in Wicker Park but for every other historic district. 

Ward Miller, Executive Director, Preservation Chicago, pointed out that it is inappropriate to see historic buildings become giant billboards. "There are signage guidelines for signage on landmark buildings and in landmark districts, why do these billboards exceed the guidelines?" 

Miller also expressed concern about what large vinyl signs can do to the sides of the buildings. "Are they breathable or could they become micro environments that would affect the walls?" He suggested a possible study to determine the possible outcome. 

Allan Mellis, though a resident of Lincoln Park, stated about the Damen sign, "I do not think that special circumstances should influence the judgement of the Landmarks Commission about the impact of this inappropriate large 34 foot by 17 foot vinyl advertising sign." He then raised the possibility of making it a painted sign. 

Ftikas said that they considered that possibility but came to the conclusion that constant removal of paint from the brick would cause harm to the surface. 

The vote 
The vote on each of the two permits were identical. One vote to approve the permits and two responded to the call for a vote as "present." With only one vote in favor, the permits were not approved.

Photo resource: Google Maps



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