Should Baxter restrict electronic business signs?
Messages move across the screens advertising deals, meals and more.
Motorists are familiar with the digital upgrade to animated advertising along streets and highways in Brainerd and Baxter. They’ve been allowed in both cities. But Baxter’s Planning and Zoning Commission recently heard recommendations to stop the movement. The conundrum for Baxter comes from the fact 21 permits were granted for electronic signs with changing messages since 1996 even though the city ordinance prohibited them. Another handful of businesses are now in the wings waiting for sign permits.
So the city’s planning staff began looking at a variety of sign ordinance issues, including the electronic ones. The recommendation was to grandfather in existing signs and make them legal, but require changes. Staff acknowledged the volatility of the subject matter but strongly recommended approving the draft ordinance. City staff reported the signs can be traffic hazards, create aesthetic concerns and be detrimental to property values. The city proposed regulations to size, type, brightness and movement, as well as setbacks.
The electronic signs would be allowed on pylons or monuments only, not on building walls. The city proposed allowing signs to change or move once every seven seconds, unless it was a display for time or temperature. The proposed draft ordinance stated images and messages must be static with scrolling prohibited. Messages had to be complete and couldn’t continue on the next screen change. For existing signs, the proposal stated if the technology existed to stop current movement, it needed to be used to end the animation. No waving flags. No pulsating suns. No rolling text.
Kendra Lindahl, the city’s planning official, said she did a lot of research on the issue. One change was allowing signs to change the message every seven seconds instead of a previous 20 second interval.
Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Bob Kinzel said everyone wants to out-do each other and the city has been nice to the business community allowing them to keep signs even though they aren’t allowed by ordinance.
If the businesses have the ability to bring their existing signs into regulation, they’ll be asked to do that. Lindahl said the benefit of now having existing signs as legal nonconforming status is a business will have the ability to replace a sign if it is damaged.
Lisa Paxton, Brainerd Lakes Chamber CEO, said the concern is to have signs that have been allowed without restrictions for 17 years and after millions of dollars invested be restricted to the point where they may no longer be useful.
Everyone appeared to agree to restrict blinking or flashing signs. But business owners questioned if the transitions on signs were really a problem. Paxton said the seven second minimum seemed arbitrary with other Minnesota cities sign standards allowing changes every three or four seconds. A vehicle covers a lot of ground in seven seconds, Paxton pointed out.
First National Bank of Deerwood in Baxter was one of the businesses that had a six-figure investment for an electronic sign. The bank’s sign has a dollar bill coming out an ATM. Other business owners and operators also questioned being caught in limbo with signs that wouldn’t be allowed to fully function. They questioned how the city will enforce the changes. Kinzel said he hoped people will find the rules fair and follow them. The chamber provided its own recommendation to allow gradual movement.
Lindahl said she reviewed hundreds of ordinances and it was up to the commission to decide if moving signs should be allowed or not. She noted cities used three, four and six second intervals for sign changes like a waving flag or dancing banana.
Commissioners Gwen Carleton, Bob Ryan and Howie Oswald said they didn’t mind gradual movement. Commission member Steve Lund suggested reducing the interval time to three seconds, allowing fade-outs and special effects and scrolling, but prohibiting flashing or blinking. The commission approved the changes. The subject is expected before the city council Tuesday.