U.S. Cities Ponder Signage Laws

Gail Chiasson, North American Editor

Salt Lake City, Utah, and Asheville, North Carolina, are among various U.S. cities currently studying digital signage in their respective communities.

The Salt Lake City Council recently held a public hearing concerning proposed regulations for electronic message centers. Approximately three dozen individuals testified before the council in opposition to a proposed ordinance, including members of the International Sign Association, Utah Sign Association, the Western States Sign Council, the Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance and several end users.

The major issues brought up at the hearing in regard to the proposed electronic message center ordinance included the proposed dwell time, safety restrictions, separation requirements for electronic message centers from residential districts and the commingling of electronic message centers and billboard regulations.

As a result of the sign industry’s well-organized and effective efforts, the council directed staff to set up a meeting with stakeholders to work through the major issues identified at the public hearing.

In Asheville, claiming that digital billboards make roadways dangerous and mar the city’s landscape, residents urged city officials Wednesday to ban the signs. About two dozen people attended the commission meeting in Asheville City Hall, where officials considered restrictions to stop or limit additions to the current nine electronic signs on city roads.

However, the Planning and Zoning Commission took a more cautious approach, voting to look into increasing setbacks from roadways and buildings with apartments as well as stopping any new versions of the electronic signs from being built on certain roads.

The seven-member volunteer committee could vote on a final recommendation Feb. 1. That recommendation could reach the City Council for a final vote in March.

Committee members considered five options, including increasing setbacks from roads and buildings with any residential units, eliminating the signs from certain roadways and banning them altogether. Any changes would not affect the existing nine billboards, only new ones.

Referring to a sign on one specific road, one complainer referred to it as “It’s nothing but graffiti on a stick.”

Representatives from Fairway Outdoor Advertising and Lamar Advertising defended the digital signage, arguing that they had taken down many billboards to be able to put up only a few new ones, and that the boards were valuable for messages such as Amber Alerts and other public service messages between advertisements. The city has a ban on any new billboards, but state law prevents Asheville from requiring removal of existing signs without a high level of compensation.

In 2008, Ashebill City Council had decided to allow digital billboards as a way to reduce the overall square footage of the then-existing signs. For every three 3 sq. ft. of traditional paper billboard that came down, a company could put up 1 sq. ft. of digital billboard.

The commission voted 5-2 to look at their next meeting at increased setbacks and a ban on some roads.

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