Thursday, June 12, 2014

Something About Closing A Barn Door After The Horse Is Out

The sign went up and the Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin said it was hideous. The building on which the sign is placed has been lauded for its architectural simplicity, for the way it mirrors the bends of the Chicago River as the tower rises up from the banks in a fluid motion. The sign, however, is more like a massive pimple on an otherwise pretty face. Even the building's architect panned the egotistical addition to his gem.

The sign had to have been approved before it went up, so someone at City Hall knew full well where the letters would be placed and how big they would be, what they would be made of and what color would be featured. You don't slap up signs without getting things cleared through zoning and the local alderman.

But it is only after Blair Kamin says he doesn't like the sign that Mayor Rahm Emanuel suddenly takes note of something that was approved by his underlings.

The horse is out, and the Mayor is looking to shut the barn door.

Signage is often left for later when a new building is being reviewed prior to construction. The developer might be trying to find a tenant willing to pay big money for naming rights but that sort of deal isn't usually completed before ground is broken. Just as often, the developer has a sign in mind that might not meet with applause by the entire City Council, and so permission gets delayed until later, when it's just a question of massaging the alderman or maybe dropping a few thousand in a campaign coffer to grease the skids.

Chicago can, of course, regulate signs within the city. The problem in this case is that the regulatory process was followed and legal approval granted. The sign is actually smaller than the dimensions approved by the City Council a few years ago, shortly after the building opened, so how can the city argue size after the fact? Too late, the Mayor thinks it's ugly and too big, but where was he when the specs were submitted?

Regulations exist to protect the city's appearance, but regulations also exist to protect the investment of the building owner who is paying for the gigantic T-R-U-M-P. Other than taking Donald Trump to court to try to force him to remove an expensive sign, there is little the city can do in this case. About the best that can come out of the sign fiasco is that an ordinance could be passed to prevent a recurrence at the next building to go up along the river. An ordinance passed after the sign has been approved, however, cannot be applied retroactively without a bruising court fight.

Then again, the court system in Cook County is heavily skewed towards the interests of the ruling Democrats, so it isn't impossible to imagine that Rahmbo could have his way.

Mr. Trump would be wise to seek an immediate change in venue. He'll never get an honest court to hear this case. That's the Chicago Way.

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