COLUMBIA — On the corner of Broadway and Stadium Boulevard, a 6-by-3 foot LED sign inside the A. W. Smith Law Firm building flashes the message, "Speeding is Dangerous!"
At Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony's request, Columbia City Council introduced an ordinance Monday night to consider prohibiting or limiting the installation of such signs in the future. Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley and Bourn Avenue Neighborhood Association spokeswoman Jenn Sonnenberg have received complaints about the sign.
Sonnenberg said she’s heard about the sign from about 10 parents of students attending Fairview Elementary School who live in the area, as well as neighborhood residents.
“I think the sign is tacky, and I’ve heard that from others as well," she said. "Not a single person who’s mentioned it to me said they liked it.”
Sonnenberg said she’s heard complaints that the sign is distracting to drivers.
"It’s distracting, unattractive, and it’s not a good way to get your information out there," she said. "It draws attention away from other things drivers should be focusing on.”
Dudley said he's gotten a lot of calls about the situation and that people tell him the building is beautiful but the sign is tacky. But Dudley said he didn't find it any more distracting than any other signs.
Aaron Smith, owner of the A.W. Smith law firm, said he’s received no complaints about the sign being a distraction to drivers, but people have told him they don’t think the sign is a good match for the building aesthetically.
The sign was installed in July around the same time the firm received its occupancy permit.
“I was surprised when this all came out," Smith said. "I didn’t expect City Council to say it might shut the sign down."
The sign is intended to be a miniature version of the electronic sign on the back of the Memorial Stadium scoreboard, he said.
"I don’t want to be a nuisance. If it ultimately comes down to it and City Council says the sign is unacceptable, I’ll deal with it," Smith said. "But I think it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek to say my sign is distracting when you have a sign like the one on the back of the scoreboard.”
Smith called the sign classy and said it features no advertisements — unlike the scoreboard sign — but has positive, community protection messages to increase awareness about driving dangers such as texting while driving. On game-day weekends the sign displays messages in support of Missouri football.
Smith said he already received resistance from the Bourn Avenue Neighborhood Association in a year-long battle to construct his firm’s building. He said the frequency and color of the sign has been changed based on complaints and comments received from the public, City Council, family and friends.
“I get nothing but compliments now,” Smith said. “I’ve had just as many people tell me they like the sign as people have who’ve told me they don’t.”
Dudley confirmed that Smith has made changes.
Sonnenberg, who has spoken to Dudley about the issue, said she hasn’t noticed any changes made to the sign on Stadium Boulevard and said the sign on the back of the Memorial Stadium scoreboard is obnoxious.
"It's not the color or the font of the sign (on Stadium Boulevard), it's just the fact it's there," she said.
Sonnenberg said she hasn't had any other issues with the law firm since the building was completed. She said the building and the surrounding landscape look nice, but that the ordinance to prevent these kinds of signs would be wonderful.
“I’d prefer not to see any signs like that,” she said.
Mayor Bob McDavid said signs are difficult to manage and regulate.
“The sign may be in poor taste, but it’s not necessarily in my responsibility to regulate poor taste," he said before the council meeting Monday night.
McDavid said he’s received more complaints about the signs on city buses. He also said that if council is going to regulate digital signs, something will have to be done about the sign on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard and bank signs showing the temperature.
“The issue is very much open-ended," McDavid said. "We’re just opening discussion, and I have no idea where it’s going to go. We’ll see what the sense of the community is before we make a decision.”
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