PLANNING COMMISSION WORK SESSION

TUESDAY, JULY 26, 2011

COUNCIL CHAMBERS OVERFLOW CONFERENCE ROOM

CITY HALL; 333 W. ELLSWORTH STREET;

MIDLAND, MICHIGAN

 

Present:  Hanna, McLaughlin, Mead, Pnacek, Senesac, Tanzini and Young

Absent:   Brown and Stewart

Staff:      Keith Baker, Planning Director, Cheri King, Community Development Specialist, Cindy Winland, Contract Planner, and 3 others

 

1.      Electronic Signs

 

This is an introductory meeting to look at electronic signs in the community, including current regulations regarding their safety with respect to placement, hours of operation, and frequency of light intensity change. Cindy Winland presented her research.  We need to look at “flashing” signs that change message so we can evaluate the safety of these types of signs.  Concerns include their hours of operation and the frequency of light intensity change.  As these are not all LED-lighted signs, Ms. Winland stated she will call them “digital” signs. 

 

The Commission will focus on two questions:

(1)   Do these types of signs cause driver distraction to the point of creating a safety hazard?

(2)   Do the regulations in the city adequately address the safety and aesthetic needs of these types of signs? 

 

(1)   Do these types of signs cause driver distraction to the point of creating a safety hazard?

 

The Midland City Zoning Ordinance has already set a standard, below which a digital sign poses a safety hazard.  The Zoning Ordinance states that signs with copy that changes at a frequency of six seconds or less distract drivers and are a safety hazard.   (Sec. 8.04 B2)  There is a tremendous amount of research about this regarding billboards, but there is not a lot of information on these types of signs on roads with speeds of less than 55 mph.  Sometimes the lumination factor and the flashing factor can produce different effects.

 

Questions to ask that influence the safety of signs include:

·         Is the sign too big?

·         Placement of the sign – Is the sign too high?  Too low?

·         Is the sign too close to the road?

·         Is the flashing too frequent?

·         Is the flashing too bright?

·         Are there more crashes in the vicinity of the sign?

·         Do neighbors complain about the sign?  If so, why?

·         Is there research to support safety enhancements?

 

(2)   Do the regulations in the city adequately address the safety and aesthetic needs of these types of signs?

 

Signs which incorporate flashing or moving lights or screens capable of displaying moving images that flash or move or otherwise change at intervals of less than six (6) seconds are prohibited.  These signs distract drivers and impact safety. 

 

The ordinance also addresses sign design standards.  The use of glaring, undiffused lights or bulbs are prohibited.  Lights must be shaded so as not to project onto adjoining properties or streets.  These signs must have an automatic dimmer control which produces a distinct illumination change from a higher, daytime illumination level to a designated nighttime level.  Signs that incorporate flashing lights or moving images must be turned off when the businesses or buildings that they advertise for are not open for business or special events.

 

Enforcement of these standards is proving to be difficult.  The time frequency often changes with the change of copy.  Mr. Young stated this is the tip of the iceberg.  Is it really a safety issue or just a perception? 

 

      In other communities, if digital signs are regulated, they usually are:

·         Smaller size

·         Lower height

·         Increased separation distance between digital signs on either side of the road

·         When located within a specified distance of the residential zone, the sign face may not be visible from that zone

·         Increased pause time between video presentations on signs

·         Video may not be used after 11:00 p.m.

·         Prohibit audio of any kind

·         Amortize digital signs that become nonconforming due to ordinance changes

 

 

Questions for the Planning Commission to consider:

  1. Do these types of signs cause driver distraction to the point of creating a safety hazard?
  2. Do the regulations in the city adequately address the safety and aesthetic needs of digital signs?
  3. If so, what other regulations are necessary?
  4. The city’s ordinance does not mention audio signs.  Is this something we want to discuss in the future?

 

Mr. Senesac stated that we need to reach a conclusion as to whether digital signs are safe or not.  People are investing a lot of money in these signs.  If it is not being enforced, we should remove the wording from the ordinance.

 

Mrs. Hanna stated that we need to do more investigating regarding the safety of these signs.  She feels they are dangerous by distraction.

 

Mr. Pnacek would like data to prove that they are a hazard before he would want to limit their use.

 

The Commission would like additional research by staff on the safety component of digital signs.  They also would like data from the Police Department regarding the number of accidents near or caused by digital signs.

 

There was no further discussion and the work session adjourned at 6:45 p.m.