Business owners call them effective, a great way to get out their messages.
But a few residents call them distracting and offensive, at least in some cases.
Caught in the middle are Oak Ridge officials. They are trying to write new regulations for the electronic signs, considering how to govern brightness, display times, and transitions between messages.
The Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission heard from both sides during a Thursday evening public hearing.
Citing a few signs they find offensive or distracting, a handful of residents said they don’t like signs that are animated, blinking, or large and bright. A few said they don’t want Oak Ridge to become like Pigeon Forge, and the city should be careful to not allow too many signs.
“Please fix this problem and keep it from growing,” Oak Ridge resident Sigurd Christensen said.
Dan Robbins, Greenways Oak Ridge chair, asked the planning commission to prohibit any new electronic signs along Melton Lake Drive.
But business owners said they were not trying to offend anyone or make gaudy signs.
“We don’t want to irritate the public with our signs,” said Toney Stevens, owner of Rivers Total Car Care in Oak Ridge. “We just want to get our message out.”
Rick Chinn, a partner in R&R Enterprises, which owns the Riverside Grille property, said the $60,000 sign there has provided an incredible business boost.
Business owners said they were frustrated by the process used by the city to propose the sign ordinance changes, as well as a “threatening” violation letter they received last year. They said they don’t want the city to make it harder for them to do business in Oak Ridge. They want to work with municipal officials, the business leaders said, and are willing to do things like turn down their signs at night.
“We should use this technology instead of fighting this technology,” Stevens said. But, he added, “We do need to use it wisely.”
The existing sign regulations were adopted in 2003, and city officials first proposed changes to the sign ordinance late last year, saying the regulations need to be updated in response to new technologies and marketing trends. The proposed changes would have required that electronic sign messages be static and shown for at least 10 seconds, and they would have set a maximum light intensity for the signs.
But the changes and the process used by the city were publicly opposed by several business owners, and they’re off the table for now.
The electronic signs are becoming more popular—several more Oak Ridge businesses are considering buying them—and they are becoming more technologically advanced. Already, there are 18 of the signs reported in the Secret City.
A few business owners said they have postponed their plans to buy electronic signs until Oak Ridge officials decide what new regulations might be put in place to govern them.
The Oak Ridge Community Development Department surveyed regulations in eight other cities. Two prohibit the signs, all regulate light intensity, and many require messages to be displayed for eight to 10 seconds, said Monica Austin Carroll, Oak Ridge Community Development division manager. Some don’t allow moving, scrolling, or flashing signs, and some regulate distances between signs and between signs and residential properties.
Planning Commission Chairman Terry Domm said the sign regulations could be discussed during a workshop next month.
A few Oak Ridge officials said the city is not adequately enforcing its current regulations, even though there are a few flagrant violators. The existing regulations generally prohibit signs with animated, moving, or flashing messages.
“We need to enforce the rules that we have right now,” Oak Ridge City Council member Anne Garcia Garland said.
Several business leaders asked city officials to make sure any new regulations strike a balance between businesses and the community. An Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce representative said animation and video should be allowed, but strobe light effects should be prohibited.
“Moving copy signs are a reality in today’s market and can lead to increased sales,” said Anne Dunthorn. “We have to recognize both sides of it.”