Iconic Mundelein business sign reprieved from ordinance

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

Franks for The Memories restaurant sign is slated to be exempted from Mundelein’s ordinance banning such signage. (photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

The Village Board of Mundelein took an extemporaneous approach to opposition over an April 13 deadline for compliance with its 5-year-old sign ordinance by grandfathering existing pole and cabinet-style wall signs, during its March 9 committee of the whole session. The informal poll also requested that staff members prepare amendments to the existing ordinance for future consideration and action.

The ordinance was originally authorized April 13, 2015 in an effort to improve the village’s business appearance with an embedded five-year period granted to align nonconforming signs with the new requirements. Those new stipulations banned pole signs and cabinet-style wall mountings.

A December 2020 board vote drew public ire with its decision not to exempt the pole sign of Franks for The Memories, located at 645 E. Hawley St. The drive-in restaurant, active since the 1970s with its distinctive yellow sign, has been a staple of the village’s business community in the historic downtown. Founded by resident John Schultz Sr., the business has won numerous awards in state and national competitions for its Buffalo hot wings and was featured on a national television program.

The restaurant’s owners spoke at the meeting, citing that the sign should be exempted, as the result of its “historical value” and a hallmark of identification for the business.

“The sign ordinance that was passed in 2015 provides for a multitude of sign options, well beyond the ordinance in place, prior to (then) and the sign ordinance in place, as of the March 9 meeting would have been to remove a pole sign or cabinet box wall sign,” said Amanda Orenchuk, the village’s director of community development, “a new business would have been advised that such a sign type would not be permitted and would have been advised to install alternate sign types, of which, there are many.”

In 2015, signs were added to the wording of a village-funded Business Incentive Grant  program to help with the transition. The program assisted businesses seeking to improve their exterior appearance such as on facades, landscaping, access entrances, and light fixtures. Eligible businesses received grant monies up to 50 percent of the signage replacement costs, with a $5,000 cap.

“The program will be modified for the upcoming fiscal years but the qualifications need to be drafted, reviewed, and are subject to approval by the Village Board,” said Orenchuk. “The BIG program is funded on an annual basis by the Village Board and the amount is at (their) discretion, during budget discussions. BIG funds for any project are not guaranteed.”

The current board perspective was given credence through a line item in the March 23 meeting agenda that called for a vote on the suspension of enforcement regarding the sign ordinance. The board action was a gateway to amending the ordinance at a future date.

“The board had requested that staff present proposed amendments to the sign ordinance at a future meeting for consideration,” said Orenchuk. “The language has not been drafted at this time. The discussion … was to draft language that would remove the amortization of pole signs and cabinet box signs, grandfather the use of them at current businesses but not allow newly installed pole or cabinet box signs, and to enhance enforcement of signage that has fallen into disrepair or needs maintenance.”