BARROWS -- It was unanimous. Residents and area officials would like the C. Elmer Anderson Memorial Highway to remain billboard-free.
Now it's just a matter of how that goal can be accomplished.
At a reconvened meeting of the Crow Wing Township Board Thursday, officials from Baxter, Brainerd, Crow Wing County, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the state Legislature -- as well as several residents of Crow Wing Township -- all spoke about what can be done to keep advertising off the Highway 371 bypass section.
In Crow Wing County -- which handles zoning for Crow Wing Township -- and in Baxter, billboards are allowed only on property zoned commercial, meaning zoning is the key to limiting the types of signs on new highway section.
In Baxter, land south of County Road 48 is zoned residential, and Baxter City Planner Todd Holman urged residents to attend rezoning request hearings to voice their opinions.
"People miss the boat and say zoning is no big deal," Holman said. "They will make a fuss when a billboard goes up. By then, it's too late."
Also in Crow Wing County there is a "no new billboard" ordinance, but that does not preclude existing signs from being relocated on the new Highway 371 if it were to be zoned commercial.
The Crow Wing Township board passed a motion Thursday to send a letter to Crow Wing County Planning and Zoning and to the Crow Wing County Board, asking them to consider placing a moratorium on billboards on Highway 371 as an interim solution, and pursuing an ordinance relating to limiting billboards for the long-term.
Another item that could work in favor of those who wish to keep billboards off of the bypass section is obtaining designation as a National Scenic Byway as part of the Great River Road -- highways following the Mississippi River.
In June, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois received National Scenic Byway status for the Great River Road, meaning no new billboards would be allowed along the road.
Several segments of the Great River Road do not have National Scenic Byway status, however, because they failed to meet local adoption requirements of no new billboards. The Baxter and MnDOT currently have several requirements in place for billboard signs. Billboard size limits in Baxter are 1,000 square feet, for MnDOT highways it's 750 square feet. Spacing minimums between signs in Baxter is 100 feet while MnDOT requires 300 feet. For both there may be no flashing or other distracting lights on the billboards.
The federal government also has controls on billboards. In 1965 the federal government passed the Beautification Act, stating states must control billboards or they could lose 10 percent of federal highway funding.
Minnesota statutes also state MnDOT Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg may designate scenic areas adjacent to the interstate or primary highways. The statute further states such scenic areas shall be located outside of the existing boundaries of cities, and shall not include areas zoned for commercial or industrial purposes. No new advertising devices may be erected within the area after the scenic area has been established by rule.
Rep. Steve Wenzel, DFL-Little Falls, initiated Thursday's meeting at the request of residents.
One man made the trip from Mankato just to attend the meeting.
"It's important to conserve nature for everyone," said Bill Kuehl, who has been coming to the Brainerd lakes area since he was a child. "It would be sad to come up here and see billboards instead of nature."
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