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Pequot Lakes: Council takes action to allow billboards on Highway 371

The Pequot Lakes community was a step closer to getting a billboard or two along the new Highway 371 to help alert motorists where to turn to go downtown.

The planning commission on Thursday, May 31, sent three items to the city council as the next step in the process. In turn, the council approved all three items Tuesday, June 5, at its regular meeting.

The city council gave final approval to the following planning commission items:

• Creating an ordinance amendment that specifies regulations for off-site signs (billboards). Those regulations include size, location, spacing, height and lighting. Council member Jerry Akerson abstained from voting because he wasn't sure how to vote.

• Rezoning two tracts (58.2 acres) of city-owned land along the highway from public to light industrial. Off-site signs are only allowed on commercial and light industrial properties, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Akerson again abstained from voting.

• Creating an ordinance amendment that establishes an off-site sign overlay district on those two tracts of city-owned property. The overlay district would sit on top of properties in commercial and light industrial zones for billboards to be allowed there.

Work can now begin to erect up to two signs on the city-owned property.

Attending the planning and zoning commission meeting and the three public hearings for each action item were four city council members (Akerson, Mimi Swanson, Randy Loukota and Mayor Nancy Adams); Chris Monroe, Pequot Lakes Chamber director; and Steve Anderson, Franklin Outdoor Advertising.

Planning commission members Andrew Birch and Nathan Norton were absent.

Commission member Doug Leckband voted against the ordinance amendment for the overlay district. He sought defining language regarding where an overlay district would be allowed, saying it was odd to approve the overlay district for only two parcels, rather than within certain boundaries.

Anderson, with Franklin Outdoor Advertising, said it seemed the city was forming a monopoly and creating spot zoning. He suggested the city eliminate the overlay district requirement and allow off-site signs on any commercial or light industrial property.

Mark Hallan, planning commission chair, said the overlay district is applicant driven. Anyone with property zoned light industrial or commercial could come in and request the overlay district, he said, noting no one would be prohibited from applying. The city was simply the first applicant.

Hallan said he expected applications for overlay districts on more parcels in future months.

However, because city leaders don't want a plethora of signs along the highway, the new ordinance would require signs to be 2,000 feet apart, meaning up to five could be allowed along the corridor.