Janesville City Council to consider rule change for billboards
JANESVILLE City planners worry about the long-term appearance of the city and driver safety.
A local businessman said those are not valid concerns when it comes to electronic-message billboards.
The Janesville City Council will consider loosening regulations on the digital billboards when it meets Monday night.
The changes would allow electronic billboards in more places, increasing distractions for motorists and making the city less attractive, in the opinion of city staff.
Babcock Outdoor President Dave Babcock said those fears are overblown.
It’s hard to find a landowner who will allow a billboard, the city would continue to restrict new billboards to major streets in commercial areas, and the customers for the costly digital billboards are limited, Babcock said.
Drivers generally have a chance to see only one of the screens on a billboard before they change, Babcock said, so they are similar to conventional billboards.
The city’s plan commission voted 5-1 to recommend adoption of the ordinance amendment. City staff opposes the changes.
“The changing of the messages and the ability of those signs to attract attention, we believe, is higher and more negative than with your static billboards, which are not internally illuminated and don’t have the attention-getting color that you see with the electronics,” said Gale Price, manager of building and development services for the city.
The ordinance would not affect signs on properties for which they are advertising, such as at fast-food restaurants or churches. It would regulate off-premises signs.
Babcock said the market for digital billboards is limited.
“I want to build at least one or maybe two more billboards that are digital, and then possibly change one (regular billboard) over to digital, and then that’s it,” Babcock said.
The ordinance now requires all kinds of billboards—electronic or not—to be at least 750 feet from another billboard. Some billboards don’t conform to that regulation because they were in place when the ordinance was changed in 2000 from 500 feet to 750 feet, Price said.
The plan commission has the authority to reduce the separation distance for “static” billboards to no less than 375 feet in certain situations. But the city’s zoning board of appeals controls the separation distance for digital billboards.
The ordinance change would shift the responsibility for reviewing the separation distance from the city zoning board of appeals to the plan commission. It would allow the commission to permit an electronic sign to be closer than 750 feet to other off-premises signs.
The proposed changes arose after the zoning appeals board denied a new Babcock electronic billboard on the former Everhart-O’Leary car dealership in the 2800 block of Milton Avenue. The proposed location was less than 750 feet from another sign. Babcock said the distance is just over 500 feet.
Babcock Outdoor’s request to build the billboard was the first in the city since the ordinance was changed in 2000. Babcock said he was up front, telling the plan commission he intended to convert the billboard to digital.
The plan commission tabled the request to allow the ordinance proposal to be considered first.
“If (digital) billboards are to be viewed no differently than static billboards, in the long term there will be a significant change in the aesthetics of Janesville’s commercial corridors, especially in the evening and nighttime hours,” according to a memo to the council from the city’s community development department.
“Although it may be difficult for the (plan) commission and council to visualize this possible transformation, the potential negative impact exists if the scrutiny of these signs is reduced, and an overall net increase in this signage would occur,” the memo states.
Lamar Advertising converted six billboards to digital in 2007. The city council passed an ordinance regulating digital billboards in 2008. The six digital billboards remain the only ones in the city.
The existing ordinance effectively keeps new electronic billboards out of the approved corridors, giving Lamar’s billboard a monopoly, Babcock said.
“We would just like to have a fair shot. The plan commission is well aware of that and very supportive,” Babcock said.
Price said Babcock has billboards that could be approved for conversion to digital displays, including one near the KFC on Milton Avenue.
Babcock notes that the city already restricts billboards to commercial arterial streets, so the proposed change would not allow billboards downtown or in residential areas.
The city allows billboards in 11 corridors, which include portions of Milton and Center avenues, West Court Street and Interstate 90/39.
The memo notes that when the council approved the ordinance in 2008, it recommended a display period of 30 seconds for the constantly changing electronic signs. The council changed that to 10 seconds.
The memo cites an American Planning Association document that warns against short message intervals because they could be “a traffic hazard.”
On the agenda
The Janesville City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday in council chambers on the fourth floor of City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St. The agenda includes:
-- Possible action on the sidewalk committee’s request for a compromise plan that would allow landowners to postpone installation of sidewalks.
-- Action that would allow the city to begin tax foreclosure proceedings for the property at 1114 Rockport Road, which has been tax delinquent for 25 years, according to the city. The property would help with a business retention project.
-- Authorization to borrow $16.97 million for previously approved projects.
-- Action on dissolving two Tax Incremental Finance districts: TIF 3, which returns no money to local taxing jurisdictions, and TIF 16, which returns money to the county, city school district and Blackhawk Technical College.
-- Introduction but no action on an ordinance to regulate taxi fees.
-- Introduction of a proposal to rezone 3410 Bell St. to allow a health club with indoor tennis courts.
The council also will meet at 6 p.m. in Room 416 of City Hall to hear a report from consultants on the results of a survey of city residents conducted over the summer.