The public debate gained notoriety in December with a dispute over an electronic sign featuring an animated Santa. After months of meetings and hours of discussions, it could be close to being resolved, although the community appears to remain divided.
On Monday night, the Oak Ridge City Council voted 4-3 to approve, in the first of two monthly votes, ordinance changes that would, among other things, prohibit videos or continuously scrolling messages on electronic signs, revisions that would presumably prevent an animated Santa.
The revised ordinance would require messages on the increasingly popular signs to be static and remain displayed for five seconds. The changes, which still have to be approved on second and final reading in September, would also govern signs used for sporting events, set maximum brightness levels, and require the displays to automatically dim through photo cell technology.
In a 3-4 vote, the City Council rejected a proposed amendment by Oak Ridge Mayor Pro Tem Jane Miller to remove the language prohibiting animated videos or continuous scrolling, two features that business leaders continue to support.
But other city officials objected to Miller’s proposed last-minute change.
“That sounds like a pretty deep cut in the ordinance,” Council member David Mosby said.
“I think that is the real crux of why we’re here,” Oak Ridge Community Development Director Kathryn Baldwin said of the debate over animated videos and scrolling messages. “This is the one issue that is still outstanding.”
The debate has pitted residents who sometimes find the signs too bright, obnoxious, or distracting against business owners who way they are effective advertising tools.
Terry Domm, chair of the Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission, said those involved in the negotiations during the past six months have come to a consensus on three issues: traffic distractions, business needs, and the residential impacts.
But whatever is put into place has to be measurable and enforceable, Domm said. He said the proposed ordinance changes, which could be amended later, are not extreme.
“In fact, it is far more reasonable than most communities,” Domm said.
City officials say they want to avoid sign clutter, keeping the town attractive, but also serve the business community.
Voting in favor of the ordinance changes, and against Miller’s amendment, were Mosby, Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, and City Council members Anne Garcia Garland and Charlie Hensley.
Voting against the ordinance changes and in favor of Miller’s proposal to allow animated videos and scrolling messages were Miller and Council members Trina Baughn and Chuck Hope.