The Edmond Sun

October 14, 2013

Council hears both sides of digital sign issue

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Whether the City of Edmond will permit businesses to use electronic message center (EMC) signage was discussed Monday at an Edmond City Council public forum.

Mayor Charles Lamb called for the city to write a separate ordinance chapter dealing specifically with digital signage if the council ever permits a broader use of the commercial signs. The City Council has never taken up the issue for a deserving yes or no vote, Councilman Nick Massey said.

“I personally believe that we should have some kind of EMC ordinance in the City of Edmond,” Massey said. “I think it’s time we join the 21st century in being able to take advantage of some of the technology that is out there for our businesses.”

Massey said he would support an ordinance with limitations that takes into account that some people don’t like EMC signs at all.

“Some people think they ought to be able to do everything including a full-length Star Wars movie,” Massey said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate either. But I have to believe that there’s somewhere in the middle that everybody can live with ….”

The current sign ordinance defines three corridors to allow larger square footage and taller signs up to 25 feet in height and 77 square feet in width. These corridors are on Broadway, Second Street going east to Interstate 35, West Edmond Road and 33rd Street from Broadway to Boulevard, according to Bob Schiermeyer, city planner. Ground signs include monument signs.

The mid-afternoon meeting drew a crowd of about 40 people, mostly business people with a good representation in the sign industry. A previous workshop in June ended without consensus by the council as to what instructions to give city staff on whether or not to move forward with the issue, Lamb said.

Businesses considering investing in new operations on the Interstate 35 corridor are consistent in asking for the EMC signage, Massey said. He asked Schiermeyer to include in a draft ordinance no movement or animation in EMC signage.

To avoid a flashing affect, Massey suggested that as a starting point, electronic message signs may change their format once every hour.

A once-an-hour EMC message change would be limiting for Uptown Grocery Co., said Denise Hawkins, marketing director.

“We have 40,000 to 50,000 items. Right now in Oklahoma City we have an 8-second hold,” Hawkins said. EMC placement in Edmond could benefit merchants with 8-10 second text changes, she said.

Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce Board President Darin Kent said a digital sign is not necessarily more distracting than people standing on street corners twirling signs. Thought should be given to examining what other communities are doing with EMC usage and how to keep Edmond competitive, he said.

City code already establishes that current sign codes must be respected for any new sign. Non-conforming signs cannot be converted to EMC, according to the city planner’s office.

“One suggestion has been if you do have a conforming sign, you can only use 50 percent of the area for electronic messaging,” Massey said. “Frankly, I don’t see what the point of that is if we’re trying to compare a stand-alone sign with letters stuck up there now with an electronic sign, why would we be punishing people, forcing them to reduce them 50 percent?”

Councilwoman Elizabeth Waner was not convinced with Vital Signs of Edmond owner Justin Booher’s presentation of EMC devices that direct light away from going up into the night sky.

Waner said light pollution can glare on people, unsettling them from their peaceful environment.

“I find these signs to be offensive spam,” said Ed Moore, neighborhood activist.

Councilman Darrell Davis said he is concerned about protecting the aesthetic look of Edmond. How a multitude of these signs would be viewed together for drivers passing down the street in coming years should be taken into account, Davis and Waner said.

“I live right on the border of Edmond and Oklahoma City,” Davis said. “I see a sign on a bank. I see a pharmacy blaring. And I don’t know if it’s because the dimmers are out or the humidity in the air.”

The brightness is too bright, Davis said.

Further study should include how the city would regulate and enforce the amount of light generated from the EMC, Davis added.

“I will say that I like EMC’s, because they’re neat when they’re packaged properly,” Davis said.

Councilwoman Victoria Caldwell said it is time for the city to consider the EMC.

The council can come to terms with not allowing oversized electronic signs in the community, she said.

“I’m more comfortable than I was at the last meeting regarding the dark sky effect,” Caldwell said.

Massey said the more people are exposed to the EMC, they will see that they are not as horrible as some people had imagined them to be.

More public discussion will help the council clarify issues with the EMC to reach common ground, Lamb said.