For approximately 80 years, Leibundguth Storage & Van Service has been located at 1301 Warren Ave. in Downers Grove, Illinois, adjacent to the Metra commuter-rail tracks.
The building bears four signs advertising the business: a sign painted directly on the back of the building facing the railroad tracks; a sign painted directly on the front of the building; a sign with “Leibundguth Storage & Van Service” in hand-painted block letters; and a smaller sign advertising Leibundguth’s relationship with Wheaton World Wide Moving. The two hand-painted signs have been on the building for approximately 70 years, the lettered sign has been on the building for 50 years and the Wheaton sign, or a similar Wheaton sign, has been on the building since the late ‘70s or early ‘80s.
In 2005, the village of Downers Grove passed an amended sign ordinance, which became effective against every sign in Downers Grove in 2014. The sign ordinance only “grandfathered” signs located in three specialized business districts that existed prior to Jan. 1, 1965. In order to be grandfathered, a property owner must provide definitive proof that such signs existed prior to Jan. 1, 1965. There are only two signs that are grandfathered in Downers Grove.
The ordinance prohibits “any sign painted directly on a wall, roof, or fence,” except in certain specialized business districts. It prohibits a wall sign that faces the Metra unless that same sign is along a roadway. It allows only one wall sign per frontage along a roadway and it limits a property’s “maximum total sign area.”
Under the ordinance, Leibundguth is prohibited from having the painted sign on the back of the building, which advertises the business to thousands of Metra commuters each day. Removing that sign would cause significant harm to the business. Further, the sign ordinance would also prohibit the hand-painted sign on the front of the building. And the sign ordinance would allow only one wall sign on the property.
Bob Peterson, the owner of Leibundguth, asked the village to allow signs to face the Metra tracks, including his sign, but the Village Council declined to amend the sign ordinance. Peterson also asked for a variance to allow him to keep the sign on the back of the building, but the Zoning Board of Appeals denied his application.
The Liberty Justice Center filed this lawsuit on behalf of Peterson and Leibundguth Storage & Van Service to protect his First Amendment right to free speech in advertising the business. The provisions within the sign ordinance are too restrictive on the free-speech rights of businesses. We are asking the court to strike down the sign-ordinance regulations and allow Leibundguth to keep its historic signs.
Complaint (December 8, 2014)
The attorney for Peterson v. Village of Downers Grove is Jeffrey Schwab, Staff Attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. For more information, or to arrange an interview with Jeffrey about the case, contact Kayla Weems, Media Relations Manager, at (312) 607-4977 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.