It may not be the last time the Burnsville City Council debates the merits of dynamic display billboards in the city, but for now, at least, the issue has been put to rest.
On Tuesday, the council unanimously approved an ordinance amendment allowing dynamic display billboards along the city's interstate and arterial corridors. The amendment permits companies to convert existing, traditional billboards in Burnsville into digital signs on the condition that they remove at least one other standing billboard in the city.
That "retirement clause"—and lingering divisions between the council members—threatened to once again derail the discussion during the council's regular meeting Tuesday.
Burnsville City Councilor Dan Kealey pushed to remove the clause from the ordinance, citing a letter from CBS Outdoor. CBS, which has two high-visibility billboards along Interstate 35W, claimed the retirement clause unfairly favors Clear Channel Outdoor, a company with four billboards scattered throughout the city.
Two of Clear Channel's four signs are off the more lucrative interstate corridor, CBS representative John Bodger wrote in the letter, making them prime candidates for removal. CBS, however, has no signs outside the corridor, and would have to take down a more valuable, more visible billboard to construct a dynamic display sign.
“I don’t think that's the point of this. I think we should eliminate that language, and let the nine that exist, exist, and not try to force them out," said Kealey, referring to the nine total billboards still standing in Burnsville.
Kealey's statements ran aground on opposition from other council members, including Councilors Mary Sherry and Dan Gustafson.
Gustafson took aim at CBS' letter, calling it an "11th-hour" concern that should have been brought forward earlier.
Removing the retirement clause, Sherry said, would also betray the spirit of previous councils and the public, who have sought over time to phase out billboards in the city.
Under the new ordinance, only static images would be allowed on the digital billboards—flashing lights or animation would be prohibited. To reduce the distraction for drivers, each message would have to be displayed on the sign for a minimum of eight seconds, and each sign would be equipped with an ambient light monitor that can adjust the brightness of the sign to match outdoor lighting conditions.
The owners of dynamic display billboards are also required to display public service announcements on behalf of the city, according to the ordinance.
Kealey eventually relented and agreed to support the ordinance and intact retirement clause, but predicted that the new regulation would create later issues for the council to handle.
“This is a really tough one," Mayor Elizabeth Kautz acknowledged. "We’ve wrestled with this ourselves for a long time."