Roughly 14 months ago, a commercial REALTOR® contacted the McHenry County Association of REALTORS® distressed about a letter he received from the village of Cary concerning his small commercial real estate step-in signs. The village of Cary decided to reinterpret its sign ordinance and require $95 permit fee per real estate sign for commercial properties—even for the small ones.
Bruce Kaplan, a commercial REALTOR® for over 30 years, past-president of the McHenry County Association of REALTORS®, and resident of Cary could not believe his eyes. He thought there must have been some mistake. After all, he assisted with the crafting of the sign ordinance several years earlier as part of a task force. This was never its intent. When he asked the village about it, they treated him like he was the one getting away with something.
As the region’s local Governmental Affairs Director for the Illinois Association of REALTORS®, I immediately agreed to become involved because of the broad impact this would have on the real estate industry as well as the negative impact on our members and property owners’ First Amendment rights.
After paying the village’s required $10 fee to view the actual sign ordinance, we quickly learned the village was not even following its own ordinance. It clearly defined a commercial real estate sign as “temporary” and under the sign fee schedule “temporary” signs were $20, not $95 as they tried to treat permanent signs.
The irony of all of this was I met with the village attorney and explained our position. He seemed open to some tweaks. However, when the village looked to re-open the issue, half of the fee came from a completely different chapter of the municipal code! It was a plan review fee—something I was never told about for seven months of back and forth with the village attorney, manager, assistant manger, and full village board. I only learned about it the day before the vote when they decided to cut it to $47. We are still not satisfied because of it still being the highest commercial sign fee in McHenry County and the only one to charge for small commercial step-in signs.
Fast forward a few months later: Bruce Kaplan, who initiated this whole issue, threw in his hat in the ring for village trustee and he won on a good ol’ fashion campaign that worked around many issues such as a more business friendly climate and greater government transparency and accountability.
Congrats to Bruce and all Cary residents who stand to benefit from this mindset!