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The great billboard debate: 2007 ordinance bans new billboards in Dickinson, proposed amendment upholds decision

An area sign company wants the Dickinson City Commission to rethink a revision to an ordinance passed in 2007 that puts a ban on any new billboards within the city and extraterritorial zone.

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The existing billboards — the city has 50 — were grandfathered in and can only be replaced if the cost is less than 150 percent of replacement.

Dakota Outdoor Advertising wishes to replace nine existing billboards with eight digital signs — a direction in which the industry as a whole is moving, said Watford City resident Mike Derby, who represented the company at a regular meeting of the Dickinson City Commission on Tuesday evening.

“It allows for ease of change, for quick response and they’re controlled remotely so they’re easily updated,” Derby said. “Because they are easily changed, we would like to … be a part of the community and provide public service advertising for nonprofits or Amber alerts or fugitives that are wanted. It’s done all over the country and we want to be a good corporate citizen and provide that for the community.”

An amendment to the current sign code was up for first reading at Tuesday’s meeting. The commission passed the first reading, allowing Derby to provide the commission and city staff with more information regarding digital billboards and the Dakota Outdoor Advertising’s plans for Dickinson.

The reading passed unanimously, with the exception of Commission President Dennis Johnson, who was absent. Commission Vice President Gene Jackson presided over the meeting in Johnson’s place.

Dakota Outdoor Advertising has signs in Watford City and Williston and has plans to move into Dickinson, Minot and Bismarck, Derby said. The company plans to market the space to local and regional businesses.

“So our stance is that the billboards that are currently in this town are grandfathered in because they were here prior, no new billboards would be allowed within the city limits or the ETZ, and we would rather have junky old signs as our gateway into our community rather than replacing them with something modern and changeable is our stance?” Commissioner Klayton Oltmanns asked city staff.

The city can either allow or disallow billboards, Community Development Director Ed Courton said.

“The question is do you, as a board, want to follow the recommendation from the planning commission and say, ‘We’ve got 50 billboards, I think that’s plenty,’” Courton said. “It’s well over probably what we should have and they’re congregated in specific areas. If we have enough, than we shouldn’t allow more.”

The commission could allow the replacement of existing billboards beyond the 150 percent replacement cost, Courton said.

“It’s an aesthetic issue more than anything else,” Courton said, “Do you want your city to have another eight digital billboards that affects the visual corridor as you drive down the road?”

Billboards are allowed in commercial and industrial areas.

The issue will come up at a later commission meeting for second reading.

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.  
(701) 456-1206