Commission, county clash over sign rules

One issue is whether future signs should be lit from the inside or from the outside.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:50 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Boone County officials have worked off and on for years to establish new sign restrictions. So when the Boone County Commission shot down a proposal from the county Planning and Zoning Commission, one can imagine the frustration that followed.

Boone County Northern District Commissioner Skip Elkin cited last-minute opposition as the reason he and his fellow county commissioners declined to act on the proposed regulations late last year.

He said the input — including protests from business people and a church that had recently bought a sign that doesn’t comply with the proposed new rules — made the commission realize the impact the proposal would have had.

“(The discussion) really put things in perspective,” Elkin said. “We realized the immediate impact that the ordinance would have had on churches and businesses.”

Dialogue has resumed as the commissions and interested residents pursue answers to key questions that Elkin said still exist.

One issue is whether future signs should be lit from the inside or the outside. Some planning commissioners think internally lit signs cause light pollution and distract drivers.

Elkin and Presiding Commissioner Keith Schnarre, however, refuse to budge from their stance in favor of internally lit signs.

The current draft of the proposed regulations would allow both internally and externally lit signs, as well as backlit signs.

Deciding which roads the county will allow new signs to be placed along is also under discussion. The Planning and Zoning Commission has expressed reservations about allowing billboards along state lettered routes or along Highway 22, which connects U.S. 54 and U.S. 63. Elkin has said that he doesn’t necessarily want billboards on lettered routes, but he supports billboards on Highway 22 because of commercial interests in the area.

Allowing billboards only along numbered highways has been discussed, but members of the Planning and Zoning Commission worry that historic roadways such as Highway 40 would be targeted and scenery harmed. Pat Smith, chairwoman of the planning panel, doesn’t want to see billboards anywhere except where allowed by state law.

“I don’t think we should have billboards except where we have to, which is on 63 and 70,” Smith said. “I feel very strongly about that.”

Elkin hasn’t decided against protecting Highway 40 but in general favors allowing billboards on numbered highways.

“If someone can convince me otherwise, I could change,” he said.

Commissioners are also exploring whether to restrict electronic message signs, which some believe distract motorists and threaten driver safety. The current draft of the ordinance stipulates that such signs must flash for three or more seconds at a time, a proposal that Schnarre supports.

Elkin and Smith are still deliberating on the issue; Smith, however, thinks the signs are dangerous.

“I have to look at the issue from a safety concern,” Smith said. “It’s been proven that they’re detrimental to driver safety.”

Despite the lengthy discourse, Elkin believes future talks about the sign rules will yield a compromise. “There’s an answer in the middle somewhere, we just have to find it,” he said.

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