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Bucktown Billboards Galore: 'Make Your Opinions Heard', Urges Alderman

A digital billboard planned for the intersection of Milwaukee Avenue and Leavitt Street is part of last year's billboard privatization deal, a local official said. Several others are popping up in the area, too.

The new LED billboard planned for a prominent local intersection is part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's expansive billboard privatization deal, according to 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack.

The billboard currently at the cross-streets in question—Leavitt Street and Milwaukee Avenue—very near the Bloomingdale Trail, will be replaced with the same kind of digital sign Emanuel recently identified in a plan that will pepper them along the city's expressways.

According to Waguespack, who was one of six alderman voting against the billboard proposal last year, the city has worked out an agreement with the park district to include the existing billboard in the package deal. He said he initially wanted to tear that original sign down altogether.

"To me, it's just a ridiculous place to have a sign," he said. "And to include it as part of a package of the billboards that the mayor put together, I think that's even worse, because it's just bright, and it detracts from the property values of all the people that live near there."

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Waguespack said the city has asked that his office use impact fee dollars to help pay for the sign. These funds are collected anytime development happens in the neighborhood and are typically used to acquire land for parks and green space.

"It sounds like they want to use it to essentially buy that billboard but then turn it into an LED billboard," he said.

Waguespack said he has encouraged residents who have expressed concerns about the billboard to contact the groups working to turn the nearby property into a park and let them know how they feel.

"I told them, 'You all need to work together to make sure your opinions are heard,'" he said. "It's just not something we're interested in seeing at that park."

Another billboard is under construction on the southeast corner of the intersection, opposite the existing sign. Waguespack said his office had previously denied a request to erect an LED billboard on that corner because he was already trying to get rid of the one across the street.

"Somebody had called in, maybe three weeks ago, to request putting up a billboard, and I said no to that location," Waguespack said. "So the next thing we know, this weekend the sign was going up."

He said he's currently looking into permit information for the location in an attempt to determine which city office or department signed off on the construction after his office denied the request. The 32nd Ward office has dealt with these kinds of unauthorized projects before.

"That's happened in the past, where people have put up illegal signs," Waguespack said. " … And then we spend like two or three years trying to get the building department who gave them, let's say, an electrical permit ... (It) doesn't mean anything, but once they get the electrical permit, they think they can kind of put up whatever they want."

Area residents and community groups have also started taking action against the billboard projects. Bucktown Community Organization President Steve Jensen is drafting a letter to the mayor to publicly state the group's position on the issue, and he has encouraging neighbors to do the same.

Austin Milbarge January 23, 2013 at 09:26 PM
not one resident wants these installed.
Carrie Frillman January 24, 2013 at 03:26 AM
That's the word on the street, Austin. It seems they're not getting much aldermanic support, either. What ever happened to "power to the people" and all that jazz?
Raymond J Narvick January 24, 2013 at 03:54 AM
Scott is a straight shooter. City hall, the land owners, and the advertising company are the ones trying to profit. The city only lets certain connected companies broker the ads. The actual advertiser pays the advertising firm. The company in turn pays fees to city hall, pays the land owner, and erects and maintain the actual display. I think at least half of the money generated stays in the hands of the advertising firm. Its outrageous to think the ward office should pay for the sign for outsiders to profit along with city hall. The permit fees must be very high. The sign company is supposed to pay for the display out of their end. This deal really stinks. Scott made the right decision staying with us rather than running for mayor in the last election. I hope he takes the opportunity when Rahm falls from grace. It will be sooner than later with this kind of stuff going on.
Leah Viands January 25, 2013 at 08:43 PM
Raymond I agree with your post! Also, Patch nice work at being on top of this breaking story as it unfolds.
Carrie Frillman January 25, 2013 at 09:11 PM
Thanks for the comments and feedback, guys. Don't be a stranger! If you're wondering about anything in the neighborhood, have any sort of news tip, or simply need help solving a local problem, do send me an e-mail at carrie@patch.com.

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