Redmond looks to keep out electronic billboards

Current rules considered too vague

By Leslie Pugmire Hole / The Bulletin

Published Aug 21, 2014 at 12:01AM

REDMOND — A lone electronic billboard installed recently in north Bend — and a letter to the editor in The Bulletin expressing concern about it — started the phone ringing in Redmond’s Community Development Department.

“We’ve been hearing community concern about what’s happened at the Cooley Road area with billboards,” said Community Development Director Heather Richards during a Monday Redmond Urban Area Planning Commission workshop. That, and recent relocation of billboards in Redmond, prompted city staff to review city codes regulating billboards.

“The current code is somewhat vague (regarding electronic billboards),” Richards told commissioners. The code prohibits signs that are “illuminated by any flashing intermittent revolving, rotating, or moving lights. … However, this does not apply to traffic control signs or signs providing public service information such as time, date, temperature, weather information.”

Given Redmond’s historical lack of support for billboards in general — the city’s community vision statement calls for gradual elimination of billboards inside city limits — city staff proposed stronger language in the sign code to preclude the use of digital technology used in billboards.

Richards gave commissioners a staff report suggesting this addition to the city code: “This prohibition also applies to electronic, digital, liquid crystal diode, light emitting diode, motion signage, rotating louvers, and similar digital technologies for new billboards or modified billboards.”

The staff report stated that tightening the rules would be consistent with the Redmond Development Plan “relating to seeking creative solutions to improve the overall aesthetics of existing arterial and collector street corridors.”

Oregon reworked its rules in 2011 and now allows electronic billboards on state highways, although municipalities have the say on highways inside city limits. Federal law gave way to the digital signs in 2007 for the federal road system.

“Personally, I think they are a traffic hazard,” said planning Commissioner David Allen.

Commissioner Anne Graham expressed concern about the aesthetic impacts of the digital signs, adding, “I don’t think they fit with the vision we have of Redmond.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Redmond re-examined billboard signage. When the rerouted U.S. Highway 97 was under construction in 2008 and the city began receiving requests to locate billboards along the new stretch of roadway, City Council discussed how committed it was to the long-term vision of eliminating billboards altogether.

Hoping to route potential drive-by traffic into the city center, the council opted to allow billboards on U.S. Highway 97 but limited their number.

Code amendments regarding electronic billboards are scheduled to be presented in a public hearing in front of the planning commission on Sept. 15.

In an email on the subject, Richards wrote: “Sign code is always an active discussion in any community. They are a big part of a community’s physical image and a tool for businesses. Finding a balance that serves both interests in a positive manner is the objective of any community. Even more unique for Redmond is the fact that US 97 where most signs and billboards are located is the gateway and first, sometimes only, impression that people have of Redmond.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, lpugmire@bendbulletin.com