Residents not happy with plans to start installing Wilson-Lamon digital billboard on Monday
by BRIAN NADIG
A plan to start installing a digital billboard on Monday, May 7, in the eastbound lane of traffic in front of the Mayfair Pumping Station, 4850 W. Wilson Ave., was not well-received at a May 2 community meeting.
Several of the meeting’s attendees expressed concern that additional community input was not sought prior to the plans for the billboard being finalized, given that the last community meeting on the issue was held in 2015. “This is a done deal,” several residents said at the meeting.
“This is not supposed to be a dog and pony show. This is not getting our (the community’s) approval,” said John Caravette, owner of Earth Wind and Solar Energy, 4831 W. Wilson Ave.
“Five days before the start of construction is not the way to get a consensus,” a resident said.
Alderman John Arena (45th) said that he has been pressuring city agencies for updated plans on the project and that he was worried that construction was going to start without notice, as was done in 2015 when he had to drive to the site and have the work stopped. “I am not happy with the Monday start,” he said.
The first half of the meeting was held in an open house format in which visitors walked around the room and viewed displays on the billboard project. It was held at the Copernicus Center Annex, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
In the second half of the meeting, Arena addressed the crowd of about 50 people.
The plan calls for the 70-foot-tall, one-sided billboard to be installed in the eastbound lane of Wilson across from the pumping station. Traffic will be allowed to flow both east and west on Wilson, but only one vehicle at a time and alternating directions, as a stop sign will be positioned in both the eastbound and westbound lanes.
“You may call it a two-way (street), but it will actually be a one-way alternating street. This is not an acceptable (solution),” a man said.
Caravette said that he is worried that the planned narrowing of the roadway to allow for the billboard will prevent trucks from making deliveries to his business.
Some residents asked city officials to explore the possibility of the billboard being attached to an existing billboard along the other side of the Kennedy Expressway, across from the pumping station. They said that a v-shaped structure could be created, with one sign facing inbound traffic on the expressway and the other facing outbound traffic.
A previous plan in 2015 called for the Wilson-Lamon intersection to be closed to all traffic, while a revised plan called for making Wilson a one-way street. Many area residents objected to both plans, arguing that they use Wilson to avoid the traffic signal at Lawrence and Cicero avenues due to backups on Lawrence.
One resident said that Wilson serves as “the relief valve” for residents and that the current plan will worsen traffic congestion. Another resident said that during Friday rush hour Wilson is jammed with cars between the pumping station and Cicero.
Original plans called for the billboard to be installed on the lawn in front of the pumping station, but underground infrastructure related to the pumping station ruled that out. In addition, other nearby locations have been ruled in part because of they would be too close to an existing billboard, violating federal regulations.
Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh has said that the city was warned in 2012 about possible problems installing the billboard on land so close to the pumping station but that at the time the alderman’s office was told “it was not a problem and that does not appear to be the case today.”
Under the terms of the billboard contract, the city is obligated to either honor the location or find another site which meets the comparable worth clause in the billboard contract.
In 2013 Arena voted against an ordinance which authorizes the installation of digital billboards on city-owned land.
“I know you’re frustrated. I’m frustrated. It’s gone back years for me,” Arena said at the meeting. “This site was problematic from the beginning.”
Arena said that there is “a complicated set of parameters” which restrict the location of the billboard and that “stones have been overturned” to find the best solution to the problem. He said that he has pressured Mayor Rahm Emanuel on this issue.
Arena said that he will seek more enforcement to address problems of illegal parking in the area and that he will ask the city Department of Transportation to come up with a plan that limits garbage truck traffic on Wilson. Garbage trucks are stored at a nearby sanitation yard.
About 60 digital billboards on city land are planned, with many of them already installed.