By Sue Botos
After months of discussion in the planning commission and City Council, an ordinance governing the operation of electronic signs and message boards has finally been brought to light.
At its last legislative session, council approved an ordinance which, according to sponsor Jim Schieda, will “define signs and regulate them so they are not a distraction or not aesthetically pleasing.”
The legislation came about in response to concern over a possible concentration of the signs in business areas, creating what planning commission Chairman Michael Harvey had referred to as a “Las Vegas” effect. However, building commissioner Kevin Beirne said, when contacted after the meeting, that most of the requests for signs have come from churches, whose members want to display event and service times.
At a prior planning commission meeting, Beirne said that guidelines used in formulating the ordinance were based on similar legislation from Lyndhurst. The suggestions were brought to officials from the First Church of Christ Scientist, at the corner of Detroit and Wagar roads, whom Beirne said had requested which its sign, which is near a residential area, be activated at 7 a.m. in time for the morning rush hour.
Beirne said the church structured its sign operation to comply, and that the guidelines were used as a basis for the ordinance.
The amended legislation details two sets of guidelines governing signs with changing displays, one for office and business districts, and the other for public facilities districts, which would include churches.
In both areas, electronic signs may only be ground signs, and not attached to a building. The actual display cannot exceed 40 percent of the area, and any flashing, scrolling or other potential distraction to drivers is prohibited.
To further avoid the “Las Vegas effect,” displays in business districts will be limited to one new message a day, except for time and temperature gauges. They can be activated between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. or during business hours, whichever time period is shorter.
Additionally, signs must have a photo sensor that will adjust intensity in accordance to natural light, and color will be subject to approval of the Design and Construction Board. The displays also must be placed more than 125 feet from any neighboring residence.
For public facilities districts, where commercial properties are not as close together, electronic message boards can change every 15 seconds with a three-second blank-screen delay between messages. They can also be activated between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Businesses will be able to come before the Planning Commission with any requests for conditional uses of electric message boards.
Beirne said he had not received many complaints about electronic signs from residents. A sign in front of the Buna Vestire Romanian Church on Wooster Road was turned off after neighbors complained of the flashing, but he said the church is in the process of moving.
Law Director Andy Bemer said that current signs and their operation schedules will be grandfathered into the legislation, including the large billboard near Wooster Parkway, which was previously approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Design and Construction Board of Review.
He said at an earlier planning commission session that the electronic sign in front of the high school especially should be addressed.
“It would behoove everyone to have a round-table discussion with them, as (this) relates to the high school construction project,” said Bemer. He said that the high school sign, which is currently shut down due to construction, is most problematic due to its flashing, scrolling messages which last only seconds.
The district’s communications director, Dianna Foley, said when contacted that the schools have received no complaints from the city or residents about the sign.
Rocky River Public Library Director Nick Cronin also said he has received no negative reaction to the sign advertising library events. Speaking to the importance of such message boards, Cronin remarked, “It is simply another tool for marketing and promotion of library programs and events. For patrons who don’t see information on the library’s website or Facebook page, who haven’t taken a look at our “Inside View” newsletter, or who haven’t read library information in their local paper, it provides a nice and very timely alternative.”