BAXTER — Animated electronic signs gained Baxter City Council approval Tuesday but not without a last minute wrinkle.
Last week after extended discussion and input from the business community, the city’s planning commission recommended allowing animated electronic signs in the city.
The commission’s opinion did not follow city staff’s strong recommendation to eliminate moving signs. Staff recommended grandfathering in existing signs but requiring changes, citing the signs as traffic hazards among other concerns for looks and property value. However, Baxter granted 21 permits for those very same signs with changing messages and moving images dating back to 1996 even though the city ordinance prohibited them. At the planning commission meeting, Chairman Bob Kinzel said the city has been nice to the business community and hasn’t enforced the ordinance.
Tuesday, in the city council’s packet, the draft sign ordinance language continued to reflect the staff recommendation that images and messages must be static with an instantaneous or fading change between displays no faster than every three seconds.
Kendra Lindahl, the city’s planning adviser, said she reviewed countless ordinances in coming up with language for the city and recommended keeping language regulating light standards.
“We don’t want people to put a sign up and then find there is a problem later,” Lindahl said.
But there was confusion between the draft language and the actual motion from the planning commission.
Lisa Paxton, Brainerd Lakes Chamber, said the intent expressed by the planning commission members was to allow animated signs and scrolling, yet the draft language called for static signs. The planning commission was against blinking or flashing signs but was in favor of animation and signs that are able to change every three seconds.
Paxton said the ordinance as written wouldn’t allow for scrolling or animation.
Steve Lund, planning commission member, also addressed the council, commending staff and fellow commissioners for the time devoted to this revision along with the business community. Lund said the city wants to have consistency in its main corridors.
The most important aspect the planning commission looked at was the animated digital signs, Lund said. He added there was a little ambiguity between the intent of the conversation was not captured in the draft ordinance presented Tuesday.
Lund said the commission felt the examples given of the waving flag or a dollar bill emerging from an ATM, were important to businesses in the city and not a safety issue in terms of distraction. The planning commission’s intent, Lund said, was to strike the static language and find animation was acceptable. Flashing or blinking messages were prohibited.
Mayor Darrel Olson said the planning commission previously talked about subtle or gradual animation. Lund replied such subjective terms may be difficult to define. And, thus, difficult to enforce.
Lindahl said the language reflected the actual motion from the commission but didn’t reflect the entire conversation.
Lindahl said staff suggested a slightly different language stating messages must be instantaneous or fading and scrolling or animation is permitted but cannot change for three seconds.
Paxton said she wasn’t sure what was accomplished if the images have to freeze for three seconds before it can change. Council member Mark Cross said the images could move but would have to there for three seconds before fading or snapping to the next image.
For example, a waving flag could not be on screen for 1.5 seconds and replaced by a dancing banana and then an animated ATM all within one three second duration. Lindahl said it was similar to what the planning commission wanted but staff felt it better addressed the concerns.
Council member Todd Holman said he liked the amendments and was most concerned with signs that appeared to simulate emergency vehicle patterns. Lindahl said the prohibition on flashing appeared to solve that issue. She said staff heard clearly from the planning commission they wanted animation and if the council also wanted to have it, this would allow movement but not allow fast shifts between images.
The council voted in favor of the revised sign ordinance.
The ordinance also states new and existing signs would have to meet brightness standards if possible. Lindahl said the city received complaints about digital signs, but added the complaints did not mention brightness.
The city’s revamped sign ordinance also addressed multi-business signs allowing businesses not on the main thoroughfare to have a shared presence even if they are on another parcel of land but within a half mile. Lindahl said the Home Depot multi-business sign is an example and originally triggered the creation of the ordinance. The multi-business sign language allows businesses on the backside of a property to be included so customers may more easily find them off the main highway. That’s different from a multi-tenant sign, which combines a number of businesses in the same shopping center into a single sign.
“I’m just afraid we are going to have a proliferation of signs we don’t want,” said Council member Jim Klein.
For visibility, signs must now allow for a triangle-shaped clearance allowing motorists to see on all sides. The sides of the triangle extend 30 feet from the intersection of the public right of way in either direction and signs must meet that setback.