Can and should River Forest become the equivalent of the “sign police,” telling residents that they can only have one political sign on a portion of their lot? That debate was inadvertently launched in December when the village board discussed a change in local code to limit lawn signs placed by construction contractors.

However, if you look around town during elections – think of the intensely contested local election a year back — enforcing a limit on signs could be a huge challenge considering the number of signs that some residents put on their lawn. 

“We don’t enforce it. Nobody cares,” Trustee Tom Dwyer said Monday when the issue came back before the village board.

So now River Forest is leaning toward changing its code related to political signs by having it conform to state law. Trustees seemed to agree on continuing to limit the size of political signs to four square feet. They also seemed to favor removing the limits on the number that could be on a lot at any one time.

By limiting the size of a political sign, the village would “avoid the unintended consequences of someone putting a billboard on a front lawn; that violates zoning requirements,” said Trustee Tom Cargie.

Under state law a village can restrict the size of a political sign but “communities cannot ban the display of outdoor political campaign signs on residential property during any period of time.” 

And it also would avoid any potential questions that a restriction would impair someone’s ability to speak politically, Cargie added. 

A change could be approved at a future meeting, although it is uncertain when the issue would be taken up next.

The issue of signs arose in December when, during a discussion of a change to village code on signs planted by contractors, Cargie expressed concern about the constitutionality and enforceability of restrictions on the number of political signs that can be on a lawn. 

River Forest defines political signs as temporary signs that announce or support political candidates or issues in connection with any national, state or local election. Code notes that signs can be limited to one sign of not more than four square feet in area per lot. That current rule is not enforced. 

A litany of other types of signs are prohibited in River Forest including box signs, electronic reader boards, home occupation identification signs, moving or animated signs, portable signs and real estate signs indicating that a property has been sold. Banners also are prohibited, except for the grand opening of a business.

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