Lakeville has decided to relax its rules to let more businesses use image-changing electronic advertising or identity signs.
The City Council has yet to determine how quickly such signs can change messages without distracting passing motorists or creating a tacky image. Council members wrangled a bit at their last work session over whether to approve a 60- or a 30-second minimum interval between sign image changes.
The council will decide after soliciting public comments at a Planning Commission hearing on the ordinance change on Thursday.
Mayor Mark Bellows said he supports the 30-second change limit favored by Lakeville's Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission. He said that's what Burnsville has done, and he doesn't want Lakeville to wind up "in second place to Burnsville."
As for a "Las Vegas effect" from many electronic signs erected near each other, Bellows said: "It's a $40,000 investment, so I don't see a proliferation of those signs in our city. But when a business makes that kind of investment it should have the freedom to try and use that technology."
Planning Director Daryl Morey said the Planning Commission discussed avoiding a potential overload of flashing neon lights. "That is the extreme," he said.
The Planning Commission and city staff, with support from Holiday stores and Ole Piper Inn, have recommended a 60-second minimum that could be reduced after a year if no detrimental effects emerged. No flashing, animation or scrolling sign messages would be allowed.
"Some businesses prefer faster [sign] changes," said Council Member Laurie Rieb. "Drivers are distracted enough as it is. My only concern is safety and reasonableness."
The city now allows gas station fuel price signs and larger electronic signs at a high school, the downtown arts center and a church, Morey said.
"This would be a change in direction for Lakeville," Morey said. "It's opening up the door to allow these signs on a greater basis."
Lakeville checked with other cities and found the minimum time between static message changes ranges from every 8 seconds in Bloomington (for text of up to 10 words) to 20 minutes in Minnetonka (which allows eight-second changes on its six electronic billboards), to no electronic signs in Apple Valley, Edina, Maple Grove and other cities.
Burnsville tried a 60-second sign change minimum for 18 months, ending in 2011 when the city Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of nine businesses, "heavily pushed for 8 seconds," said Skip Nienhaus, the city's economic development coordinator.
During the 18 months, Burnsville police kept an eye on major business areas along County Road 42 and Hwy. 13, but didn't notice increased accidents, he noted.
Because any business in commercial districts can erect a sign and electronic image changes are not synchronized, many signs that change images at different intervals could be installed at a busy, business intersection, causing driver distraction, Nienhaus said.
He said the City Council compromised and reduced the change interval to 30 seconds in mid-2011. He said the city has more than two dozen of the static message electronic signs, but no billboards yet.
Bloomington has gained dozens of the signs since it became one of the first metro area cities to adopt an electronic sign ordinance in 2006, said city Planning Manager Glen Markegard. He said sign rules are based on a review of federal and state studies that found driver distraction continues to be a significant underlying cause of traffic accidents.
Although word messages can change every eight seconds, Bloomington requires 20 minutes between changes of more distracting picture-and-text images, Markegard said.
"I think of what we have wanted the community to look like," said Council Member Kerrin Swecker at the Oct. 22 work session. "We really didn't want to be the flashing, changing signs. But times and technology change and it's time to go in that direction."
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283