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Pequot Lakes approves use of digital signs downtown

After years of off-again, on-again debate, the Pequot Lakes City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 2, approved on a 3-2 vote the use of digital signs in the city's downtown core area.

After years of off-again, on-again debate, the Pequot Lakes City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 2, approved on a 3-2 vote the use of digital signs in the city's downtown core area.

The most recent request for digital signs came from the Pequot Lakes American Legion, Pequot Lakes office of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber and Pequot Lakes Public Schools. Several years ago, the council allowed gas stations to use digital displays to advertise gas prices.

The council adopted an ordinance amendment to allow digital signs, with the following stipulations:

• Signs can be a maximum of 32 square feet (increased from previous proposal of 16 square feet because the size of lettering increased to resemble marquee signs).

• Signs must be at least 100 feet from any residential property.

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• Any message must remain static for at least two hours (increased from previous proposal of 30 seconds).

• Sign brightness may not exceed 5,000 nits during daylight hours and 500 nits from dusk to dawn.

• Dynamic displays must have an automatic dimmer control to produce a distinct illumination change at different times of the day.

• Fluctuating or flashing illumination is not allowed.

• Letters must be at least 8 inches tall.

• Two colors are allowed, one for the background and one for the letters, symbols and numbers.

City planner Justin Burslie of Community Growth Institute told the council that safety is the top concern regarding digital signs. Pequot Lakes' big hangup has been whether digital sign displays fit the city's up-north, small-town character outlined in its comprehensive plan.

In August, after the planning commission recommended the council deny the request for digital signs, council members directed the planning commission to do more research to create a digital sign ordinance that would better fit the comprehensive plan.

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City council member Dave Sjoblad said he believes the Legion plans to install a digital sign, but the chamber and school district have no plans at this time.

Council member Scott Pederson and Mayor Nancy Adams voted against amending the sign ordinance. Pederson was most vocal in his opposition, saying the decision to allow digital signs is a step backward, promotes the wrong look for the community and caters to a couple of businesses.

"We don't have a sign policeman. If someone wants to change a sign every 20 minutes, no one will be monitoring. We can't govern content," he said.

Showing pictures of digital signs in other cities, he added: "So our city is going to look like this?"

Pederson disagreed that the ordinance amendment is in line with the comprehensive plan. He suggested the city first change the comprehensive plan to reflect the change in sign concept.

He also said the council is letting 3 or 4 percent of city businesses dictate what the city does, considering there were three applicants advocating for digital signs out of 100 or so businesses in Pequot Lakes.

"I think that's at the very least a mistake on our part," he said, adding he knows of a couple of business leaders who oppose digital signs in the city. "The council has to look out for the whole city. It's a wrong direction for our city."

He said allowing digital signs destroys the last 10-15 years of planning.

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"If we decide to go this route, 8-inch letters and a two-hour time frame is a joke. Maybe we should eliminate the entire sign ordinance altogether," Pederson said.

Burslie agreed the allowance for digital signs doesn't comply with what the city looks like, but said the planning commission twice recommended an ordinance amendment be denied.

"Our job was to write an amendment that best conforms with the comp plan and that's what we did," he said. "We can't regulate content, but we can regulate the type and feel of the sign, what it looks like."

In the end, Sjoblad and council members Jerry Akerson and Tyler Gardner supported the sign ordinance amendment, and Pederson and Adams opposed it.

Related Topics: PEQUOT LAKES
Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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