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."
Get more local stories like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone with our free newsletter. Fast signup here.
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.