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Permit Process For New Signage Is Making Businesses Wait Months, Ald. Osterman Introducing Ordinance To Help

signage-1Two aldermen and three local organizations are doing what they can to help pass an ordinance that seeks to help small business owners obtain signage permits in a way that’s faster and easier — and much better for business. 

If approved by the Chicago City Council, the Nov. 20 version of the proposed ordinance that is co-sponsored by Alderman Harry Osterman, 48th Ward, and Alderman Emma Mitts, 37th Ward, would also include an automatic renewal process for unchanged signs.

The proposed ordinance was introduced to the Chicago City Council on Nov. 18, Dan Luna, Osterman’s chief of staff, said. He added on Nov. 20 that the proposal still needs to be considered in committee before it will then head back to the City Council for what’s hoped will be its full passage.

“We have received overwhelming support from aldermen, with almost 40 signing on as co-sponsors in one day,” said Blanca Campos, advocacy director for the Small Business Advocacy Council. She added that her organization expects it to be presented for a full vote at the Dec. 9 City Council meeting.

“Small businesses and sign companies, many of whom are small businesses themselves, face many hurdles when navigating the sign permitting process,” she said. “Getting sign permits is a lengthy process that involves multiple departments within City Hall and lengthy approval times for signs small and large.”

The Small Business Advocacy Council is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that aims to level the playing field and improve the business climate for small businesses and entrepreneurs, Campos said. One issue that consistently came up as a constant sticking point was the sign permit process.

“Currently, if your business sign overhangs the sidewalk, even by an inch, along with a sign permit, the business will also need to get a public way use permit,” Campos said. “Small businesses seeking to obtain a public way sign permit currently wait between 60 to 130 days or longer, which is not business-friendly and has for years kept businesses from becoming compliant with City requirements. 

Campos said the proposed legislation significantly improves the process for small businesses. By working with legislators, the proposed ordinance aims to reduce the time it takes to obtain a sign permit for signs projecting 12 inches or less over the public way. 

“As small businesses face many challenges, we should be working together to improve the business climate and ensure that they not only survive, but are able to flourish in our city,” she added. “This is a positive step forward in supporting our local job creators.”

Ally Brisbin knows both the inner workings of how to start and maintain a business and how to help other small businesses succeed.

Not only is she in charge of business development and marketing for Edgewater Workbench, a 3D, graphic design and laser cutting service, but she is also the marketing and events manager for the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce.

Yet even Brisbin hit red tape when applying for a sign permit for Edgewater Workbench, located at 1130 W. Thorndale Ave. It took her nine months to get that permit in a process that she called “frustrating,” she told the Edgeville Buzz.

“The process was unclear, and it felt like everyone was passing the buck — the sign company blamed delays on the city and the alderman’s office, and the city blamed the sign contractor,” she said. “There was a touch of sick comedy to it all, that my day job is to assist small businesses with things like permitting, but I couldn’t even get my own permit through.”

Brisbin said the Edgewater Chamber has partnered with SBAC on a number of initiatives this year. She said it wasn’t hard to get the Chamber on board with the Signs of Change coalition. 

“We have recognized the sign permitting process as a hindrance to small businesses and were excited to be part of a solution,” she said. “The Chamber is involved in this coalition with the hope that we can further streamline the Public Way Use permit process. The easier we can make it for businesses to get signs, planters, and sidewalk cafes, the more inviting and vibrant our business districts will be across the city.”

 

Luna said Osterman also met with Sara Dinges, President/CEO of Uptown United, to discuss the possibility of helping small businesses easily navigate through the sign permit process. Alderman Mitts, who co-sponsored the proposed ordinance, chairs the Committee on Licensing and Consumer Protection.

Luna said Osterman’s office is “always looking for ways to help the small businesses in our community.”


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