Two businesses that recently opened on the second story of a former Borders bookstore in La Grange are waiting to see what happens next after the La Grange Village Board decided — at least temporarily — that they could not install signs on the building's second story.
A property manager for the building is seeking a variance from La Grange's zoning code, which forbids signs placed higher than 20 feet or above second floor windows. The board decided to submit the request to committees for more review, and at the same time ordered the businesses to take down temporary banners by July 18, Trustee Jeff Nowak said.
"This decision not only potentially impacts the old Borders property, but it has the effect of impacting the rest of the Central Business District," Nowak said.
Consequently, the board decided the Plan Commission and the Design Review Commission should review the proposal, he said. The village board will likely revisit the variance request in September.
ATI Physical Therapy and Massage Envy Spa are both located in the second story of the building. A third space on the second story is being developed.
Massage Envy owner Justin Hudetz said the signage issue came as a surprise to him. Hudetz recently relocated in La Grange from Western Springs. He expressed a concern that the La Grange Village Board might be more concerned with aesthetics than the needs of businesses.
"If they want businesses to come to La Grange and bring their jobs and their tax revenue with them, you would think they would want to be helpful and accommodating instead of obstructive," he said.
The building is owned by a division of Deutsche Bank. The owner's property manager, Mid America Asset Management, made the request.
Massage Envy's lease with the property manager has a provision for signage, but includes the exception "with approval from the village," Hudetz said.
ATI also expected to be able to post a sign when the business leased the space, ATI Public Relations Manager Kim Waterman said.
"It's important for ATI physical therapy to have exterior signage to help our patients find our location and also raise awareness about our services in downtown La Grange," Waterman said. "We'll continue to work with the village and building owners to work on exterior signage that is attractive and in line with the village character."
ATI was issued a business license in February 2013, according to the La Grange Economic Development Department. Massage Envy received a license in March. The property manager applied for the variance in April.
"Signs are a key element for retail business and a requirement of the existing tenant leases," the property manager said in its variance request. In addition to the individual business signs, the company wants permission to display a sign that will identify the building as "La Grange Crossing, 1 North," above second-floor windows above the main entrance.
Three businesses are located on the first floor — Smashburger, Great Clips and AT&T. Some of the space beneath the second-story windows is taken up by their signs.
The La Grange Zoning Board of Appeals backed the request before the village board denied it. In its approval, the zoning board considered economic and business impacts. The regulation of signs is intended to create an attractive economic and business climate, and to "enable the public to locate goods, services and facilities in the Village without confusion," the zoning board said in its review. The zoning board determined the signs would help customers find the businesses, and that the signs would be smaller than normal first-story signs, which would decrease their visual impact.
But the board, seeing how wide-reaching the implications of their decision could be, decided to seek more review, Nowak said. Nowak had pushed for the businesses to be allowed to keep their signs until the board made a decision, but that proposal did not receive full board support, he said.