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The digital billboard debate continues: Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission to take comments, work further on sign ordinance

Dickinson city staff have been working for several months to update its sign code in an effort to keep the city looking neat and tidy.

What it didn’t expect was to face opposition to its effective ban on billboards — something that has been in place since 2007.

In an effort to help sort out some of the issues with the regulation regarding billboards and other signs around the city, the Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission invited industry leaders to give comment — both verbal and written — to a rough draft of the proposed ordinance at a workshop after its regular meeting Wednesday morning at City Hall.

The proposed ordinance went up for a first reading and was approved at a regular City Commission meeting in January, with more discussion the following meeting on Feb. 3.

One of the issues brought to the table at the Jan. 21 meeting was the use of digital billboards along Dickinson’s major highways and in its city limits.

Dakota Outdoor Advertising wants to install several digital signs and improve other static signs in and around Dickinson, said Mike Derby of Watford City and Bob Lewis of Rapid City, S.D., partners in the business.

“Digital billboards can be so helpful in this community,” Lewis said. “Public service announcements — in Rapid City we just had our first Amber Alert for two little kids that were kidnapped from their home, and on every digital billboard in the city the Amber Alert went out, and the kids were found. Now I can’t tell you how helpful those were, but every digital billboard in Rapid City there was an immediate Amber Alert out.”

Wayne Munson of Indigo Signworks of Bismarck was concerned about the minimum time limits for digital message signs like the one at the southwest corner of 12th Street and Third Avenue West. The proposed ordinance stated that billboards could change frames no faster than five seconds. Munson demonstrated that speed was slow, spacing a message one word per second and one word per five seconds.

“You’d be by the sign and never see what the last (frame) was,” Munson said. “That’s why we’ve always preached to train one second. It’s quick, it gets the message out there and it’s not distracting the drivers.”

Newman Outdoor Advertising manager Leo Ness pointed out some redundancies in the city’s proposed ordinance from state and local regulation, including sign spacing and placement.

“Anything that’s along a state or federally funded road — which is pretty much any highway around here — or is visible from that road has to obtain a permit from the North Dakota (Department of Transportation),” Ness said.

Munson suggested adding visuals to definitions in the proposed code to better clarify the types of signs.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will take written comments to make sure it obtains enough information before the ordinance goes back to city commissioners.

“I’ve been looking at billboards for 65 years, so I don’t think they’re really any expediency,” Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Earl Abrahamson said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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