More digital LED billboards could be coming to Bucktown, and residents and community groups are not happy about it.
An existing billboard at the corner of North Leavitt Street and North Milwaukee Avenue is going to be torn down to make way for an LED sign, according to Bucktown Community Organization President Steve Jensen.
"I heard it through the grapevine that the existing billboard on the Bloomingdale Trail side is going to be removed and the city was going to erect a LED billboard in its place," Jensen said. "Then yesterday I drove by and I saw them erecting a new billboard across the street on the opposite corner. And nobody in the neighborhood really had any heads-up about these things."
Jensen said he could not reveal where he heard about the plans because he was waiting for his source to get more detailed information. While it's not yet clear whether the billboard currently under construction on the southeast corner will also be digital, he said he opposed a new billboard at that location either way. He said he's asked 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack to look into the current construction to see if there was any way to interrupt or delay it.
"The president of the (Wicker Park Committee), Teddy Varndell, and I both agree that we don't want these things in our neighborhood," Jensen said. "Whether they're new static or new digital, we don't want them so deep in the neighborhood. They have a place near the expressway and busier thoroughfares, but not at Leavitt and Milwaukee."
Jensen plans to draft another letter opposing the billboards, and other community members, including Chamber of Commerce Vice President Jeremiah Taylor, have expressed interest in signing off on the letter.
"It's basically a position letter that there was no discussion, there was no input process from the community at all," he said. "It's the same old same old, ram it down their throats and apologize later. We have to go on record stating our opposition to (these signs), period."
Jensen is also encouraging residents who oppose the billboards to call the city, ask to leave a message for the mayor's office and voice their opinions about the signs.
"Bucktown has been silent for a very long time, and these things are starting to pop up," he said. "And if we don't speak up, we're just going to be taken for granted."
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The sign at Leavitt and Milwaukee would be within view of several commercial and residential buildings, as well as the proposed Bloomingdale Trail park development. Jensen posted the news, and a photo of the billboard that's currently under construction, to the Bucktown Community News Facebook page. Both posts have generated more than 30 comments combined. Between the Facebook comments and conversations he's had with neighbors, Jensen said he hasn't heard from a single neighbor who's in favor of the billboards.
According to a comment from 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack on the Facebook discussion, the billboard's installation—and the purchase of the land it's located on—will cut into neighborhood development funding.
"It'll only cost 95k of Wicker Park Bucktown development funds normally utilized for creating new green spaces to acquire it from the unknown private owner," Waguespack wrote. "Tearing it down was my original plan."
Waguespack's office could not be reached for comment on Monday because it was closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Digital billboards previously caused a stir in the neighborhood when the Chicago City Council voted to approve a billboard privatization plan that called for the installation of 32 digital billboards along the city's expressways, five of which will be located in Bucktown along the Kennedy Expressway. Common complaints regarding the signs involved the light pollution their bright screens would generate at night and the potential negative effects they could have on property values.