Vernon Hills, Hawthorn mall compromising on signs
VERNON HILLS Friday Feb 1 2013 Westfield Hawthorn Mall | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 6, 2013 2:11AM
VERNON HILLS —While reviewing Westfield Hawthorn Mall’s prospective $40 million renovation, village trustees raised concerns this winter about how two proposed 48-foot LED signs would affect motorists and nearby residents.
The signs would be built along Townline Road and Milwaukee Avenue, near the mall’s main entrances, and include 17-by-17-foot LED panels on both sides.
Village code restricts commercial signs to 25 feet tall.
Assistant Village Manager John Kalmar said the plan commission was initially dissatisfied with the answer it received after asking “Why do you need such big signs?” Kalmar said he was concerned about other shopping centers wanting to also build larger signs if Westfield gets permission.
John Genovese, Westfield’s senior vice president of development, responded by telling trustees that a 100-acre property deserves a prominent presence.
Village President Roger Byrne agreed and said Westfield needs to draw customers inside somehow because prospective customers cannot browse stores from the outside.
“Whenever I’m in Skokie I drive around (Westfield) Old Orchard Mall many times looking for stores I might like,” Byrne said. “You can’t do that here; Hawthorn is an indoor mall.”
When the plan commission first reviewed the proposal in late January, its members also worried large amounts of bright lights might distract motorists. Village trustees had similar concerns in mid-February, but emphasized the impact on residents who live approximately 1,000 feet away from the proposed Milwaukee Avenue sign.
Westfield officials agreed to dim the lights in later hours, and agreed to be flexible on how often the messages change. Trustees backed this compromise.
“The mall is our bread and butter and they’re coming here with a lifestyle change, so we’re going to have to change some too before they close their doors,” Trustee Cindy Hebda said.
The Village Board and Westfield officials ultimately agreed to limit the signs to 39 feet. Trustees were unhappy that they are still above village code, but some acknowledge Westfield’s efforts to be considerate.
An agreement was not reached regarding the signs’ content, however. Kalmar and Village Attorney Robert Kenny reminded trustees of a village policy that prevents property owners from advertising products not sold in their stores.
Kalmar said the ordinance is designed to promote shopping in Vernon Hills. Trustee Barbara Williams said it also protects nearby residents who would see corporate decals and punch lines all day, every day.
Trustees decided to wait and vote on content after Westfield and village staff develop a clear definition of “off-site advertising” that does not violate the First Amendment.
In the meantime, trustees gave a preliminary 4-1 approval on the rest of Westfield’s proposal: construction of two 39-foot LED signs, façade renovations, restaurant renovations, construction of an AMC movie theater, renovation plans for a potential Dave & Busters and the accommodating liquor licenses.
Williams was the lone opponent. She was against alcohol being allowed in the movie theaters, saying she feared some customers could hand drinks to underage patrons after leaving the bar area. Trustee Jeanne Schwartz was absent from the meeting.
The board is slated to take a final vote on Westfield’s renovation this month.