Commission says yes to billboard changes; motion signs on hold

DETROIT LAKES - After two hours of discussion, the Detroit Lakes Planning Commission set limits on billboards, but needed more discussion on electronic, motion signs.

DETROIT LAKES - After two hours of discussion, the Detroit Lakes Planning Commission set limits on billboards, but needed more discussion on electronic, motion signs.

Last April, the Detroit Lakes City Council voted in favor of a one-year moratorium on billboards and motion signs within the city limits. A sign committee was formed to discuss the matter and make a recommendation to the planning commission. Those recommendations came Thursday night.

The committee ended up dealing with the two issues separately because they felt they could "deal with the billboard issue more quickly," Community Development Director Larry Remmen said.


Six changes were ultimately agreed upon to amend Section 24 of the city's zoning ordinance pertaining to billboards.


n The distance a billboard must be from a residential zone went from 100 feet to 300 feet.

n The distance from churches, schools, libraries and parks went from 300 feet to 500 feet.

n The surface area on all signs on a lot can be two square feet per linear foot of lot frontage. In other words, on a lot with 100 foot of frontage, if a business has an 80 square foot sign on their building, they may also have a 120 square foot sign in the yard.

The previous ordinance allowed billboards to also be on the property.

n The limit of billboards along main roads, like Randolph Road and Highway 59 and Highway 10, cannot exceed 300 square feet.

n Billboards are prohibited in B-1 districts.

n Sub-divisions are allowed one, 50 square foot identifying sign.

Best Western's John Holland said he has lost two or three billboard signs due to the Highway 10 project and had planned to relocate them.


"I understand some of it (the ordinance) when talking about clutter," he told the planning commission, "but we're not trying to pick on anyone, just trying to get business.

"I don't think it worked," he added of the amendment.

Although the planning commission passed the amendment, it will still be discussed and voted on at the Community Development Committee on Thursday, and the city council meeting the following Tuesday, March 11.

Existing signs will be grandfathered into the amended ordinance.

A couple of the regulations that did not change with the amendment include those which state billboards are limited to 32 feet in height from the ground to the top of the sign, and the billboards must be spaced 300 feet apart.

Remmen said if signs were spaced evenly throughout the city, there is a potential for 116 billboards throughout the community. That is highly unlikely, he said, because they would have to be spaced exactly 300 feet apart. There are currently 23 billboards within the city.

"These changes cover the problems we've had to deal with. It's more cut and dried," committee member Ginny Imholte said, adding that it could have saved the committee hours of discussion in the past if the amendment had been in place earlier.

"Everybody was not happy with the changes," Remmen said of the sign committee, "but everybody came to a consensus."


The planning commission unanimously passed the billboard amendments.

Motion signs

The discussion on motion signs did not go as smoothly Thursday night, with the planning commission ultimately sending the issue back to the sign committee for more work.

Although there were multiple changes proposed to the ordinance pertaining to motion signs, there were a few main points business owners and sign companies took issue with Thursday night. Restrictions on size, brightness, color, time on the screen, graphics and letter size were discussed in depth.

The original proposal recommended no graphics at all, no flashing signs (which has already been the case since a 2005 amendment), letters must be 12 inches in height and text must be displayed for six seconds before changing to the next set of text.

When asked if the existing signs must conform to new regulations, Remmen said no, because the committee felt businesses have already spent a lot of money for the signs they have and it would be unfair to ask them not to use them anymore. They will be grandfathered in under the old and current ordinances.

"We're not here to clutter up the countryside, but here to represent our customers," Dick Walstad, Cook Sign Company of Fargo, said.

He added that by passing the amendment and grandfathering in those existing signs, it creates an unfair playing field for other businesses.


"You're saying pretty much you don't want signs," said Scott Mehlhaff of Best Western and The Lodge on Lake Detroit. "I'm shocked at what's come out of this. You pretty much should have said no electronic signs. You need to take a step back and look at this again."

He suggested, which seemed favorable with several other audience members, that the Highway 10 corridor be looked at separately, with different regulations.

Another audience member pointed out that the Department of Transportation uses flashing signs throughout the states to warn people of accidents, Amber Alerts, road construction, etc., and it doesn't seem to be causing accidents.

One of the signs being grandfathered in is that of ACS, along Highway 10 at Summit Avenue. Dave Pratt said the amendment wouldn't affect how they operate their sign because "I think we operate our sign responsibly.

"Is this an overreaction to something that hasn't happened?" he questioned.

Holland pointed out that times and technology are changing, and motion signs are where business is at nowadays.

"Visual stuff is what people are looking for. It's where we are," he said.

Businesses depend on their signs to advertise. What if gas stations had to turn off their price signs or car lots could only have a certain amount of cars along the road, he added.


Remmen suggested sending the issue back to the sign committee for more discussion, since there was such opposition from the audience and some of the planning commissioners.

"I feel differently than a lot of people," commissioner Harry Johnston said. "I like the electronic and graphic signs. I like these signs, I really do. I think we should have more."

Commissioner Steve Przybilla said there needs to be changes to the proposal to let businesses advertise, pointing out that driving through town, he notices what each sign says, which is a good advertising tool.

"If you're going to spend money on a sign, it's going to be nice," he said, backing the idea that businesses will keep their signs well maintained.

"I don't mind graphics and colors," Przybilla added. "I like the way they look."

Imholte disagreed with sending the issue back to the sign committee.

"That's the thing with an ordinance -- you find out what works and what doesn't," she said.

She suggested passing the amendment recommendations forward and making changes in the future as needed.


Alderman and planning commission chair GL Tucker said if changes were intended in the future, sending it forward without those changes wasn't something he was willing to support.

Imholte made a motion, seconded by Roger Josephson, to send the recommendation onto the city council for its first reading. The motion failed 2-3, with Przybilla, Tucker and Johnston voting against.

Przybilla made another motion to send the amendment back to the sign committee for more discussion -- especially on the six-second time delay, and the use of graphics and color. It passed 4-1, with Imholte also supporting the motion.

What To Read Next
Get Local