From Crain's Thomas Corfman:

A coalition of groups representing small-business owners is pushing the Emanuel administration to speed up the approval process for signs, which they say is needlessly slow and expensive.

An application for a sign on average takes 10 to 12 hours to complete and then spends two to three months wending its way through the City Hall bureaucracy, according to the Small Business Advocacy Council, which is leading a 14-member alliance that includes several neighborhood chambers of commerce.

“The process of applying for a sign in Chicago is burdensome, it's cumbersome, it's time-consuming,” said Elliot Richardson, CEO of the Chicago-based business council. “It's quite clear to the business community that there needs to be drastic improvements.”

A simple sign can be a key revenue driver for small businesses, said Richardson, who is also a lawyer in private practice. Yet the costs of complying with Chicago's ordinance, both in terms of time and money, hit small firms particularly hard, he added.Neon nitecap 12-crop-u895 - Copy

The coalition describes a regulatory process badly in need of change.

All signs require the approval of two city departments, Buildings, and Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. If the sign goes over the sidewalk, a permit to use the public way must also be approved by the local alderman and then submitted to the Chicago City Council. A sign ordinance takes at least 60 days. In all, there are 15 steps, according to a flow chart prepared by the coalition.

Big signs that require trucks and bucket lifts to install also require a permit issued by the Department of Transportation.

Among the proposed changes:

• Eliminate council approval of public way permits.

• Create a fast-track approval program, similar to one in Phoenix.

• Make the application process entirely online.

In an email, Buildings Department spokeswoman Mimi Simon called the meeting routine.

“The city is committed to meeting and working with the Small Business Advocacy Council and other stakeholders to review and understand recommendations which are not currently in process, and identify future solutions,” she said.

The coalition includes the Alexandria, Va.-based International Sign Association and its Illinois affiliate, as well as chambers of commerce representing businesses in Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Bucktown and Lincoln Square, according to the small business council.