NORMAL — Plans for a northeast subdivision proved controversial at Monday's Normal City Council meeting — but not because of a previous threat of litigation.

A week after local landowner Greg Shepard said "we're going to end up down at the courthouse for four years" if the town finalized plans for North-Land subdivision, the council didn't respond to his complaint and instead sparred about whether a billboard could remain on the property.

The only comment during a public hearing was from John Pratt, an attorney for subdivision owner Country Owners Land Corp., who repeated a request that the property keep two billboard signs. The town staff sought to enforce a lapsed 1999 agreement that limited the subdivision to one permanent billboard and one to remain only for five years.

The council voted 4-3 for an amendment allowing both signs to remain. Council members Jeff Fritzen, Kathleen Lorenz, Kevin McCarthy and Scott Preston supported the amendment; Cheryl Gaines and R.C. McBride and Mayor Chris Koos voted "no."

Four other measures related to the subdivision and construction of a new Destihl brewery there passed unanimously. 

One of the four approved measures was an annexation agreement calling for a new route for Greenbriar Drive. Shepard argued that the new route will harm the value of his nearby property.

Of the billboard, McCarthy said he appreciates the previous council's decision, but asked: "From a current perspective, are we concerned about the appearance, about the size, about the placement? Any other specifics of the signs themselves?"

Town Planner Mercy Davison responded that because that area is "the northeastern entrance to the community, I think a lot more conservatively from an aesthetic perspective."

"I don't think this necessarily, from my opinion, fits into the potential for clutter," Preston said.

Fritzen said he finds billboards generally "very useful and not eyesores," especially when they direct customers to businesses. Koos pointed out that the billboards near North-Land aren't specifically navigational signs.

The businesses on the signs as of Monday night — Denny's restaurant, Nord Outdoor Power and Rebbec Motor Company — don't operate locations near the subdivision.

Gaines, who was on the council in 1999, said the billboard could be "visible pollution," both in terms of clutter and message. She said a product or service advertised near a prime entrance to Bloomington-Normal may not be "what our community is about."

"I don't want to try to keep somebody from making a little bit of money, but I guess I'm just thinking it leaves a lot at risk," she said.

McBride said he's "very hesitant to take that (revenue stream) away" but "also sympathetic of the argument about clutter."

"What has changed since 1999?" he asked.

In other business, the council approved a $2.5 million contract with River City Construction of East Peoria to build a second railroad platform at Uptown Station and renovate the former station on the south side of the tracks. Federal high-speed rail money will pay for the project, which is set for this year.

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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