SUGAR GROVE – A sign with the simple phrase “Merry Christmas” was removed sometime early Dec. 4 from the corner of Route 47 and Cross Street in Sugar Grove.
The sign had been erected in late November in front of the giant holiday tree that still features bright, festive lights.
Sugar Grove resident Karen McCannon, one of the people responsible for decorating the tree and putting up the sign, was told she had to remove the sign because someone had called the village of Sugar Grove and complained about it.
According to Sugar Grove Village Administrator Brent Eichelberger, the village had given McCannon and her volunteers permission to install lights on the tree but did not authorize for any signs to be posted.
“The village attorney has advised us to be very strict in the enforcement of signage regulations, particularly signs located in right-of-ways or on village-controlled property,” Eichelberger said. “Per the attorney, with rare exception, the village cannot regulate signs based on content. If the sign in question was allowed, then other signs would need to be allowed as well.”
Eichelberger also explained this isn’t the first time someone complained about a sign. People contact his office frequently to grumble about signs and request their removal.
“The village gets complaints about signage year-round and unpermitted signs are removed on a regular basis,” he said. “This sign was treated in the same fashion.”
McCannon was stunned to find out that the sign had to be moved since the same sign was posted in the same place last year.
“I think it’s shocking that somebody, one person, could dictate this for the 9,000 people in Sugar Grove,” she said. “It just blows my mind that this would happen. We hear that it’s a law, so I guess that’s the way it goes.”
Sugar Grove resident Joe Didier spent a few hours in the rain putting the lights up one weekend and then participated in the official lighting and a ceremony for the recently departed Al Markus on the day after Thanksgiving. Markus was instrumental in getting the lights installed and turned on the previous two years.
“It’s sad that it has come to this, where we have to take down the sign,” Didier said. “It was up last year, and no one had a problem with it. They said we could keep Al’s angel up, because it’s a memorial, but the sign had to go.”
The sign didn’t end up having to travel very far. It was reinstalled across the street at Rich’s Auto Service & Towing, whose owner Russ Wendling was happy to do it.
“Joe Didier stopped in and told me they had one residential yard they were thinking of putting it in with good visibility, and then I mentioned our yard and how I would love to have it here,” Wendling said. “So, we went to the village to make sure it was OK. And I understand the village’s position and that somebody complained. I guess the law is what it is, but I was glad to be in a physical location where I could help with the sign.”
Another sign is expected to be popping up soon. McCannon is putting one in her front yard.
“… I’m going to put one up so people can see it when they go to the post office,” she said. “I hope it will be a statement that we want to say ‘Merry Christmas.’”