Office Depot Sign: Good Neighbor or Red Menace?

More heat than light may have been cast on the subject of the proposed new signage for Office Depot since the recent city signs committee meeting. I'm opening up this topic for discussion and invite comments.


As context, CSNA strongly believes that residents' and neighbors' concerns be heard, and our position in the past has been to urge consistent City approach to code rather than encourage ad hoc decisionmaking. That said, ordinances and rules also need flexibility. Here is my personal take (not official CSNA position) on the pros and cons here.


The default should be that Office Depot should follow City regs. I don't think Office Depot can establish a "hardship" case. On the contrary, what with Chandler's being closed for a decade, the Office Max on Chicago & Church gone for a few years, the Staples on Golf now closed, and the little stationer on Central Street (the last place I knew of to get typewriter ribbons) long history, the Green Bay Office Depot has practically a monopoly in this area, and a built-in market, in a mile or so radius, of thousands of people working from home.


Anyone going to the Green Bay store is going on purpose; the idea that they need a big sign to bring people in doesn't wash. Office Depot's competition on big-ticket items is from Best Buy, miles away; on office supplies, it's from online suppliers (where all brick-and-mortar stores face a challenge). I would buy at OD if their signage was a poster on a wooden stick, because they are the only game in the neighborhood. So the big red signs are really just branding, i.e., billboard-type advertising. Needing to attract business is not a reason to grant oversize in this instance.

The proposed north-facing sign is new and will definitely be seen by a few houses that formerly had no sign visible to them.

That said, the proposal to turn the lights off when closed  is a major concession (altho it ought to be the law anyway; a sign for a store that is closed is, again, essentially a billboard). Truly good neighbors don't keep exterior lights on all night, glaring into others'  yards or windows, but businesses often (mistakenly) think they have to either for security or to leverage their real estate. Hours of sign-lighting is something that often gets bartered in return for something a business wants (as happened with the 7-11 on Ewing).

The integrity of parks needs to be protected, but Torgerson Park, which abuts the Metra line, is already overlooked by the Dominick's sign on Green Bay. Also, the trees along the railway track will almost completely block view of both signs from the park (which is not open all night), from spring through fall.


The Green Bay-side sign will be visible to some residents east of the tracks, especially in winter. But isn't the current Green Bay sign also? The Green Bay-side sign, according to before-and-after pix viewable inside the store, appears to be about the same height as before.


Exterior lighting is a form of visual pollution but a business is entitled to let people know who and where they are, during business hours. LEDs are less intrusive than neon and are "greener" than other forms of lighting.


The entire Dominick's complex is between the Office Depot and Isabella, both shielding some view of an OD sign, and already making this a busy, lit-up  section of street. The Office Depot is in a C2 commercial district on a hugely-used road.


Overall, the new look is going to be far more attractive than the dark and dreary parking space that was there before, which looked like a movie set for a mobster shootout. Residents and passersby will see more sky and trees than when the Jenks exit to Green Bay was a dark brick canyon. And the north-facing sign is not on Jenks, but set into the lot. The overall appearance will be far more inviting than before, albeit more "commercial."

A little history: people used to park cars on the roof of the Office Depot building, when it was a Jewel, with engine noise, headlights, and the occasional parking-lot fender-bender audible and visible from neighboring upper-story bedrooms. Note that the existing zoning currently allows up to 45' tall commercial uses. One-story use is not required, except by the Floor Area Ratio (1:1 in C2). Office Depot closed 112 stores when the recession hit, and if they failed here, someone new could build something considerably more intrusive. It is in neighborhood and community interest for this store to thrive.


I suggest that a variance ought not to be granted as a matter of course, and also that the use of mature trees as screening from the residential neighborhood (required by the landscape/screening Sec. 17 of the Code) needs to be creatively explored, but that a tradeoff of a little sign size in return for limited hours of operation is the start of a good compromise for community and commerce. I invite the thoughts of others, especially neighbors, on this.