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Are Electronic Signs a Sign of The Times?

A Town and Country church's request to use an electronic sign may bring a bigger issue before aldermen.

Town and Country's Trinity Lutheran Church has had an electronic sign displaying messages outside its church off Clayton Road since October. Turns out, the sign is in violation of the city's sign ordinance which does not allow electronic message centers, another name for the electronic message boards, or digital billboards. Now the church is asking for a variance to the city's sign ordinance, in order to keep its electronic sign.

The church previously had a marquee type sign with letters that were changed manually, like many other churches and schools in Town and Country.

At last Monday's Town and Country Board of Aldermen meeting, aldermen took a closer look at the issue and discussed how it will affect the city's sign ordinance as a whole if they allow the electronic message boards.

"I know we're going to have to somehow regulate it if we do this," Alderman Lynn Wright said. "I'm concerned."

Another concern voiced at the meeting by aldermen is whether or not the electronic signs create a driving hazard or draw drivers' eyes away from the road.

Aldermen were given a presentation by Steve Heidtbrink with Daktronics, a company that makes electronic message centers.

Heidtbrink said he was unaware of any studies revealing digital signs are a driving hazard.

"If there is a hazard, you should be able to put it out there and see an accident in a short amount of time," Heidtbrink said.

He said the signs can be used for public service announcements, including amber alerts, fugitive alerts and severe weather warnings. He also said can increase the competitiveness of a small business and increase a business' revenues by 15 to 50 percent.

Heidtbrink also said schools and church's are "steady customers" of electronic messaging centers because the staff tires of always manually changing the letters on a marquee.

Heidtbrink also said the signs are heavily regulated, including the brightness of the signs.

Although at this time, Town and Country is only considering a sign code variance for the church, city leaders agree this will likely become an issue the city needs to address in the future. 

Heidtbrink said other Missouri cities, including Manchester and Jefferson City, have already changed their sign ordinances to allow the electronic message centers.

The request was not voted on, it was continued to the next board of aldermen meeting which is scheduled for April 9.

John Hoffmann April 05, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Not mentioned during the discussion of this sign case is that state and federal court cases over the years have ruled that cities cannot use zoning laws to restrict the free speech or even building expansions of churches unless it impacts the safety of the public. In this case the sign is exactly the same size as the sign it replaced. No light is directed toward the flow of traffic and it is not used for commercial means. The sign announces worship times, church meetings and community meetings held at the church. Many feel the church never needed to apply for a variance with the city. Church leaders have said they did it to be a “good neighbor.” Alderman Steve Fons has led the opposition to this sign. Some of us feel this opposition is in part due to the fact that Alderman Fred Meyland-Smith attends this church and Meyland-Smith actively campaigned for Fons’ opponent in Tuesday’s municipal election. Fons lost the election getting only 40% of the vote. Any decision on this matter should be continued until the second meeting in April when the three new alderpersons can be involved with the decision.

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