City commissioners debate merits of digital advertising boards

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The Manhattan City Commission meeting Tuesday night reconsidered the prohibition on digital billboards and allowing them within limited areas.

Chad Bunger, assistant director of community development, presented the consideration to the commissioners. The sign and zoning regulations were last visited in 2015.

Wynn Butler, city commissioner, wasn’t completely against the idea of updating the regulations and procedures.

“This could be a plus for several local businesses,” Butler said. “We’re not going to turn it into Las Vegas.”

The proposed billboards are described in the agenda as large, off-premise signs that would use displays and computers to rotate messages in a specified lengths of time rather than a consistent sign that would go for a longer period of time with only one message.

Critics site prohibiting these signs for the safety of drivers and community appearance concerns. These signs would typically be located along major roadways like expressways and arterial roads.

“We decided on the regulations because … of the safety and aesthetics,” Usha Reddi, pro mayor tem said. “I think what we have right now is fine, but I worry about kids these days with changing signs and their phones.”

Reddi said she thinks Manhattan, being a university town, doesn’t need more things to distract drivers.

The types of signs that are currently allowed are electronic changeable copy, digital graphic and digitally animated signs. No fly-ins or spins are allowed in an advertising sign so drivers won’t get distracted.

Jerred McKee, city commissioner, said there are other impacts these signs could have on the community.

“Character is my biggest concern,” McKee said. “In a study I read, digital billboards have a bigger carbon footprint and use 30 times more energy than the average home in a year.”

If allowed, other things would need to be considered such as “dwell” time. Questions over what characteristics should be required and what types of off-premise signs would be allowed were raised as well.

Commissioners said they would like to hear more in future discussion once additional research has been done on the matter of the off-premise signs.

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